UK Covid live: Whitty warns against Easter hugs as Johnson says level of UK protection against third wave unclear

PA have a handy Q&A about the Novavax vaccine as Boris Johnson has announced a deal with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) on the manufacture of up to 60m doses of it.

How does the vaccine work?

The Novavax vaccine works like other vaccines by teaching the immune system to make antibodies to the coronavirus spike protein. Researchers inserted a modified gene into a virus, called a baculovirus, and allowed it to infect insect cells.

Spike proteins from these cells were then assembled into nanoparticles which, while they look like coronavirus, cannot replicate or cause Covid-19.

These nanoparticles are then injected into the body via the vaccine where the immune system mounts an antibody response.
If the body encounters coronavirus in the future, the body is primed to fend it off. The vaccine is given as two doses.

Are there advantages of the Novavax vaccine?

Yes. While the jabs from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna need to be kept at ultra-low temperatures, the Novavax jab is stable for up to three months in a normal fridge.

How effective is the vaccine?

According to results of a phase three trial in the UK, announced in March, the jab offers 100% protection against severe disease, including all hospital admission and death.

It is 86% effective against the Kent variant, the company behind it said, and it is also 96% effective in preventing cases caused by the original strain of the coronavirus.

The study in the UK enrolled more than 15,000 participants aged between 18 and 84, including 27% over the age of 65. In participants aged 65 and older, 10 cases of Covid-19 were observed, with 90% of those cases occurring in the placebo group.

Where is it made?

The protein antigen component of the vaccine is produced in the north-east of England by Novavax manufacturing partner Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies, at its site in Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees.

GSK announced on Monday that it will provide “fill and finish” manufacturing capacity – preparing vials of the final vaccine and packaging them for distribution and use – at its Barnard Castle facility, also in the north-east, beginning as early as May. It said the “rapid technology transfer” between the two companies will begin immediately.

Has the Novavax vaccine been approved?

Not yet. A rolling review is under way by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to assess the vaccine.

Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, made a similar point. He said the vaccination programme provided “a wall” against the third wave. He went on:

This is what Boris Johnson said in his opening speech about the deal with GSK for Novavax.

Two plants are involved because vaccine manufacture often involves a production process, and a separate “fill and finish” process, when the vaccine is bottled and packaged.

It turns out there was a story after all. It’s just that the PM did not mention it. This is from Sky’s Joe Pike.

Q: Can you categorically rule out another lockdown?

Johnson says yes, but with two provisos; yes if everyone obeys the rules, and yes if the vaccine rollout continues and the vaccines continue to be as effective as they seem to be.

He says he’s hopeful.

Q: What does you say to reports London has low rates of vaccine take-up amongst care home staff. In Lambeth it is just 45%?

Whitty says the majority of care home staff have been vaccinated.

Vaccines will protect them, he says.

He says people should seek out reliable advice.

And he says his view is that people with caring jobs have a responsibility to the people they are looking after.

And that’s it. The press conference is over. It was one of the less newsy and more routine ones we’ve had.

I’ll post a summary soon.

Q: How realistic is it to expect the police to stop people breaking the rules?

Johnson says the police have done an outstanding job. They have handed out around 70,000 fines. But they rely on public understanding.

Q: Why has France not been added to the red list?

Johnson claims the UK has one of the toughest regimes. There are 35 countries on the red list. He says it is constantly being kept under review.

Q: If people have had both doses, why shouldn’t they hug their grandchildren at Easter. They are as safe as they will ever be.

Whitty says having two doses provides protections. But vaccines also offer protection by reducing the amount of virus in transmission. He says that protection will not fully be in place.

He says younger people not be vaccinated, and will be meeting people who aren’t.

And he says it takes time for the second dose to take effect.

Q: You are still restricting people’s liberties. Are you testing the patience of the public? Are you worried people will stop listening?

Johnson says he knows how much he has asked of people. But people understand the need for caution, he says.

The more we stick to the roadmap, he says, the more it will be irreversible.

Q: Are we really at risk of a third wave, given how many people have been vaccinated?

Whitty says there is a wall of protection that will get stronger with second doses. “But it is not a complete wall, it is a leaky wall.”

If there is a small surge, people will get severe disease and die. If there is a big wave, there will be a “significant impact”.

Vallance says keeping the rate down also reduces the chances of new variants emerging.

Q: When will the Novavax vaccine be available?

Vallance says he cannot answer an operational question. He says Novavax has not had regulatory approval yet.

But Johnson says they already making it.

Q: How important is it for people to be cautious?

Johnson says the emphasis on caution is right. He says he does not know how strong the defences are against a third wave.

Whitty says a high proportion of those who will catch and transmit Covid have not been vaccinated yet.

But if people stick to social distancing rules when they are outside, the risk of transmission is “massively lower”.

So if people stick to mixing outdoors, the uptick from this step should be modest, he says.

Q: Isn’t there a danger of mixed messages – celebrating relaxation, but stressing the need to be cautious?

Johnson says the whole point about the roadmap is that it allows time for data to be reviewed as they move forward.

Vallance says data should be assessed in week four.

Next week will be week four for step 1, which started with the reopening of schools. There will be a formal analysis next week, he says.

Q: How concerned are you about what is happening in Europe?

Whitty says anyone should care about what is happening in Europe.

But the main worry is the risk of importing new variants from Europe.

He says he and Vallance do not approve measures. They give advice to the PM, he says.

Q: Will the shortage of supplies affect second doses?

Johnson says there should be no problem. “April will be the second dose month,” he says.

Q: Will there be an exemption from travel rules for people who want to go abroad to see family?

Johnson says people in that situation will have to follow the rules (which implies no exemption). He will say more on this on 5 April, he says.