Laboratories to test current and new COVID-19 vaccines against variants of concern are to be built at Porton Down, the government has announced.
A total of £29.3m will go towards building the “state-of-the-art” laboratories at Public Health England’s new testing facilities at the Ministry of Defence’s top-secret complex in Wiltshire.
Scientists will be able to test 3,000 blood samples a week – more than four times the current number – for the levels of COVID-19 antibodies generated by vaccines so they can assess their effectiveness against variants of concern.
Increasing the number of tests will allow vaccines designed to “combat specific mutations of COVID-19” to be developed quickly, the Department of Health and Social Care said.
There are fears about vaccines not being effective against variants that can be more transmissible and more deadly.
Since the pandemic started in March 2020, the virus that causes COVID-19 has managed to quickly develop several mutations that have concerned scientists, including the Kent, South African, Indian, and Brazil variants.
Anthony Harnden, deputy chief of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the government, warned in March booster vaccines to fight future variants may be needed as early as this autumn.