Coronavirus: Race to buy COVID-19 vaccines as governments sign huge deals

Governments around the world are signing deals worth hundreds of millions of pounds for potential coronavirus vaccines.

Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and France agreed over the weekend to pay £662.5m for 300 million doses of AstraZeneca’s potential COVID-19 vaccines.

The contract with the British drugmaker, whose vaccine is among the first to reach mid-stage trials, will supply all EU countries – but not the UK – which is in a Brexit transition period until the end of 2020.

An extra 100 million doses will be made available for the European countries to buy, said a spokesman for the Italian health ministry.

France is said to want the doses split between countries based on their population.

European governments have been scrambling to secure orders of promising vaccines after concerns that the EU had not moved fast enough compared with others such as the US.

Experts have warned that a safe and effective vaccine could take at least 12 to 18 months.

The UK has invested more than £100m in vaccines development at the University of Oxford with AstraZeneca, and at Imperial College London.

The government has said Britain will be the first to access a vaccine from either lab should they prove successful – and 30 million doses could be provided as early as September

But some scientists have warned it is best to hedge your bets, with Dr Charlie Weller, head of vaccines at the Wellcome Trust, telling Sky News: “The frontrunners don’t necessarily mean they are the best options.

“They are the first to get into clinical trial and give us data to understand the different approaches. We will learn a huge amount from them. But it doesn’t mean they are the best. It means they are the first.”

The US signed a £940m deal with AstraZeneca on 21 May – nearly a month before this weekend’s Europe deal – to provide 300 million doses.

And as early as mid-March, Donald Trump had reportedly offered German pharmaceutical company CureVac $1bn (£790m) to secure exclusive rights to a potential vaccine.

German ministers and the company’s main investor confirmed – and condemned – the offer, but CureVac’s CEO denied there ever being an offer from the US president.

On Monday, the German government said it was taking a 23% stake in CureVac.

State-owned KfW development bank will buy £265m in shares to give it “financial security” so it can remain in Germany.

Economy minister Peter Almaier said ministers would not exert influence on business decisions, with the main shareholder remaining as Dietmar Hopp, co-founder of business software company SAP.

In May, there were calls from French drugmaker Sanofi for a more collaborative European effort after its boss said doses it produced in the US, which had rapidly rolled out research funding, would go to American patients first.

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