The British government has ordered 50m doses of new Covid vaccines to be delivered later this year for use against “new strains” if they are required.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, said the UK had agreed a deal with German company CureVac to “develop vaccines against new strains”.
The order is addition to 407m vaccine doses already secured by the government to date.
Kwarteng said: “The UK’s vaccine programme has been a national success story so far, and we are determined to make sure we’re as prepared as we can be in the long-term if new variants of Covid-19 emerge.
“This fantastic new partnership means we can work to swiftly tweak and rollout new variations of existing vaccines if we need to, while also building up Britain’s vaccine manufacturing base in the process.”
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said: “The vaccines we are deploying now are safe and effective, with the latest evidence suggesting they provide protection against new strains of Covid-19.
“But we must be prepared for all eventualities and bolster onshore UK manufacturing capacity to develop vaccines to combat new variants of the disease, taking advantage of our world-leading genomics expertise.
This will help ensure we can continue to provide everyone with a high level of protection against the virus and save lives.”
It comes after the government announced all adults aged 50 and over should receive a coronavirus vaccine by May.
Ministers had previously refused to give a firm date, saying only that the first nine priority groups would be vaccinated by the spring.
Downing Street repeatedly declined to define when spring ends during a briefing for journalists on Thursday.
But the Cabinet Office announced on Friday morning that the government intended to vaccinate all nine cohorts by May.
It said the UK’s vaccination programme planned to have reached all nine priority cohorts by May – which it said gave the Government confidence to commit to holding local elections that month.
According to the government’s vaccines delivery plan, some 27 million people in England – and 32 million people across the UK – are estimated to fall in the first nine groups.
The Government is on track to vaccinate the first four cohorts by February 15 – including NHS and care home staff, care home residents, and all those aged 70 and over.
So far, more than 10.4 million people in the UK have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
Categories five to nine include all those aged 50 and over, as well as adults aged 16-65 in an at-risk group.
Prioritisation for the rest of the population has yet to be determined.
NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said on January 11 that groups five to nine would get the jab by the end of April.
He told MPs: “This is a sprint to mid-February, and then it will be a sprint from mid-February through to the end of April to extend the vaccination to the rest of the higher risk groups.”
Stevens added there would then be a “marathon” to inoculate the under-50s “into the autumn”.