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Valneva/Covid: the going gets ever harder for vaccine laggards

To the victor go the spoils. Pfizer and BioNTech will secure 58 per cent of this year’s $64bn Covid-19 vaccine market, says analytics group Airfinity. But what about the also-rans? Plucky contenders are still puffing towards the finish line. This week, France’s Valneva won approval in Britain for its Covid jab.

Valneva’s vaccine is based on a deactivated version of the disease-causing virus. It hopes that this traditional approach, widely used to make flu and polio vaccines, could win over the vaccine-hesitant. The jab is also easier to store than the BioNTech/Pfizer offering, which uses new mRNA technology.

Valneva’s shares shot up 18 per cent on Thursday’s news. But the UK’s approval will be bittersweet. The UK government controversially cancelled its €1.4bn contract last September. The move was slammed as short-sighted by former vaccine task force chair Kate Bingham.

Brussels subsequently stepped in with an order of up to 60mn doses. Valneva expects the EU to grant approval shortly. But the UK’s move underlined the fragility of order books. That is an issue for other contenders, including Sanofi/GSK, which submitted final trial data for their vaccine to European regulators a few weeks ago.

Demand for vaccinations has halved since the start of the year, says Airfinity. A stockpile of 2.3bn vaccine doses is waiting to be used. The milder symptoms caused by Omicron, vaccine hesitancy and logistical difficulties are limiting uptake.

Increased demand would come if a more dangerous variant emerges. There is a one-in-five chance of that, Moderna said last month. Just possibly, a new vaccine could come from behind. Long-lasting protection against infection would be valuable. The impact of existing jabs starts to wane in a matter of months.

Yet it is getting ever harder for newcomers to prove themselves. Finding unvaccinated volunteers for clinical trials is a massive challenge. Nearly 350 Covid vaccines are still in development, according to the World Health Organization. Precious few have any chance of getting off the ground.

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