UK invests extra £85m in vaccine drive

LONDON: The British government will invest an additional £85 million ($103 million) in research and development for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma announced the additional funds, which bring total UK investment in developing a vaccine to over £250 million.

The money will be split between projects at Oxford University and Imperial College London, which Sharma said are “two of the world’s frontrunners to develop a vaccine.”

The additional funds come as Oxford University and pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca struck a “commercialization and manufacturing” deal that would see 100 million vaccines produced should their inoculation prove effective.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca deal, Sharma said, means “we’re able to make the vaccines available to developing countries at the lowest possible cost.” However, he promised, “the UK will be first to get access.”

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine tracker has recorded over 150 vaccines in development globally, but only 15 that have started human trials, the majority of which are in China, the US and the UK.

Meanwhile, a study by British universities Southampton and Surrey, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, has found that vitamin D deficiency may put patients at higher risk of death from COVID-19.

Robert Brown of the McCarrison Society, a nutrition think tank, said this may explain why ethnic minorities, who are more likely to be vitamin D deficient than white people, experience higher mortality rates from the virus.

Independent enquiry

Over 100 countries — including the EU member states, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Russia and India — are backing an Australia-led motion at the World Health Assembly for an independent enquiry into the global response to the pandemic.

The US was not a signatory to the motion, but President Donald Trump has been vocal in his criticism of China and its handling of the outbreak.

While the motion does not specifically name China, it will seek to “identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population,” potentially shining a spotlight on the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus originated.

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