Latecomer Valneva scores approval for COVID-19 vaccine in U.K. Can the shot find a niche?

Often dismissed as a latecomer to the COVID-19 vaccine market, Valneva turned heads in October when it reported strong results in a head-to-head trial against AstraZeneca’s jab.

Six months later, Valneva of France has secured its first major approval for the shot, winning over the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. Valneva’s jab becomes the sixth COVID vaccine to be sanctioned by regulators in England.

The conditional authorization covers those ages 18 to 50. Last month, Bahrain was the first country to sanction the shot. The European Medicines Agency is conducting a rolling review of Valneva’s vaccine, the company said.

Though entering late, Valneva claims some advantages for its product. For one, it is the first whole-virus inactivated vaccine endorsed by the U.K. and could appeal to those who feel more comfortable with a traditional jab and have resisted vaccination.

“This authorization could pave the way for the availability of an alternative vaccine solution for the U.K. population,” Valneva CEO Thomas Lingelbach said in a release. “We continue to receive messages every day from people who are looking for a more traditional vaccine approach. We believe that this new approval could also lead to additional marketing authorizations in other regions of the world.”

Like vaccines commonly used for decades to protect against polio and the flu, it is developed by growing the virus in a lab and inactivating it so it can’t replicate in the body but still prompts an immune response.

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Experts say that using the whole virus—as opposed to just the spike protein—may make this type of vaccine more effective against emerging variants.

The other COVID vaccines approved in Britain are made by Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, though the last two are not currently available in the country.

In September 2020, the U.K. signed a deal to secure 100 million doses of the Valneva jab but backed out a year later because of a “breach of obligations.” That all happened before Valneva reported results of its trial versus AZ’s shot. The company said on Thursday that it is working on a contract to supply 25,000 doses to Scotland.

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The approval comes as cases and deaths have finally leveled off in England as it battles the spread of the omicron subvariant BA.2.

Valneva’s vaccine trial was conducted at 26 sites in England with more than 4,000 participants and showed the shot to have comparable effectiveness to the AZ jab in protecting against the virus and with fewer side effects.

Valneva produces the shot from its manufacturing site in Livingston, near Edinburgh.