UK government damaged Livingston based Valneva after first praising it

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By Russell Bruce

Sajid Javid put the boot into a promising Covid vaccine on the basis of an opinion he had no evidence for before cancelling the UK’s vaccine orders. Now Javid claims that taxpayers money will be well spent on health and care. Should we believe him? Trust in UK government financial decisions is very low.

Valneva, the French owned vaccine company based in Livingston has reached an agreement with the UK government that caused considerable harm to Valneva by cancelling the contract for 100 million doses of the Valneva vaccine on 13 September 2021. The UK government claimed the vaccine would not gain approval. The UK government had no means of substantiating this claim as we wrote in a earlier article on 19th October last year. Valneva demanded an apology from the UK government which has now agreed a settlement with the company.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the House of Commons that the vaccine would not have gained UK regulatory approval. The company’s shares fell heavily as a result of Javid’s comments and cancellation. We assume there is a financial settlement in the agreement reached. We do not know what that might be and no doubt the settlement requires Valneva not to make that public.

The cost, which we assume is actual compensation, is however a matter of public interest in the wake of Javid speaking at the NHS Confed Expo, just two days ago, when he set out his ambition to ensure every pound of taxpayer’s money is well spent in the health and care system. Doesn’t seem that happened with Valneva and there is no shortage of examples of costly errors with PPE ‘mates” contracts with people with no experience of PPE or supplying the NHS.

The financial management of the Johnson government is increasingly a concern with waste PPE costing £4 billion and Sunak ignoring NIESR’s advice to ensure there would not be a cost to the public purse when interest rates rose, as they have now 5 times with the latest hike. Sunak’s mistake has cost the government £11 billion and rising by paying too much interest on UK debt.

When the UK cancelled the £1.4 billion Valneva contract the then former chairwoman of the country’s vaccine taskforce, Dame Kate Bingham, criticised the decision as a blow to international pandemic efforts and that it would dampen the UK’s resilience to future disease outbreaks. Livingston MP Hannah Bardell said the announcement came out of the blue for Valneva, which was undergoing a major site expansion in Scotland at the time.

Has Union Jack eaten his words on welcoming the UK original orders

Alister Jack, Secretary of State for Scotland trumpeted:

“This deal is an endorsement of the UK Government’s strategy of investing in vaccine development and in the skills of the Scottish life sciences sector.

“I pay tribute to the team in Valneva’s new Livingston manufacturing plant. If the vaccine is authorised by the health regulator, their expertise will play an important role in making the world safer from this virus.”

At the time Jack welcomed the original orders it was clear he saw this as a Union benefit to Scotland. How times change. He seems suddenly silent.

Valneva vaccine approvals

In fact just 25 days after the cancellation the Valneva third stage trials went well with reports efficacy exceeded the Astra Zenica vaccine. Valneva said “Superior neutralizing antibody titer levels compared to active comparator vaccine, AstraZeneca’s AZD1222 (ChAdOx1-S) with a neutralizing antibody seroconversion rate above 95%.”

Contrary to Javid’s baseless claim Valneva’s vaccine was approved for use in the UK on 14th April 2022. The first country do do so.

“The COVID-19 vaccine developed by Valneva has today been given regulatory approval by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

“The UK’s independent medicines regulator is the first in the world to approve the Valneva vaccine which becomes the sixth COVID-19 vaccine to be granted an MHRA authorisation.

“It is also the first, whole-virus inactivated COVID-19 vaccine to gain MHRA regulatory approval. With this type of vaccine, the virus is grown in a lab and then made completely inactive so that it cannot infect cells or replicate in the body but can still trigger an immune response to the COVID-19 virus. This process is widely used already in the production of flu and polio vaccines.”

VLA2001 is currently the only whole virus, inactivated, vaccine candidate based on a deactivated version of the virus. It is intended for active immunization of at-risk populations to prevent carriage and symptomatic infection with COVID-19. The vaccine will offer protection against new variants . It is also much easier to store than BioNTech and Pfizer mRNA vaccines, making distribution easier.

As a recently approved vaccine coming late to market Valneva still faces challenges to maximise the potential of their whole-virus inactivated COVID-19 vaccine. With infections rising again this summer with a recent 40% increase in UK infections and the ever present threat of new variants, Valneva’s one shot, easy to store vaccine should be able to build a considerable market over time, including in countries with low vaccination rates.