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Britain to roll out its third COVID vaccine Moderna in April

Brookline, MA. - February 25: Dr. Marisa Tieger, a physician at Massachusetts Eye and Ear fills a needle with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination clinic for Holocaust survivors and their families at Congregation Kehillath Israel on February 25, 2021 in Brookline, Massachusetts.  (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
The jab, which works in a similar way to the Pfizer vaccine, uses synthetic messenger RNA technology that can be quickly tweaked to address new mutations of a virus if necessary. Photo: Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

A third coronavirus vaccine from US firm Moderna (MRNA) will be rolled out in the UK from April and will join the Oxford/AstraZeneca (AZN.L) and Pfizer (PFE)/ BioNtech (BNTX) jabs already being offered on the NHS.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden confirmed the news on Sunday, adding that the UK's vaccination programme remains "on course."

Around 500,000 doses of the jab are expected to arrive in the first batch, Mail on Sunday reported. Overall, Britain has ordered 17 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, which has a 94% efficacy rate in trials.

Britain has also ordered 100 million doses of AztraZeneca and 40 million doses of the vaccine by US drugmaker Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNTech.

It has also ordered supplies from another four vaccine manufacturers as part of its inoculation programme, 60 million doses each from Valneva (VLA.PA), Novavax (NVAX) and Sanofi (SAN.PA) and 30 million from Janssen (JNJ).

The Moderna jab, which works in a similar way to the Pfizer vaccine, uses synthetic messenger RNA technology that can be quickly tweaked to address new mutations of a virus if necessary. Scientists have suggested the changes could be made in as little as six weeks.

It is given in two shots, one month apart.

Experts have called the data on Moderna "very promising" and the addition of a third jab will boost the stocks of the UK's depleting COVID vaccines chest.

"If we've caught up with all those over-50s we want to reach out to, it makes sense to go toward our next age group, which is the 40 to 49-year-old age group," Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said.

In November, the UK became the first Western country to approve a coronavirus vaccine. So far over 30 million people in the UK have received a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, according to official data. However, just over 3 million have gotten their second jab.

WATCH: Moderna vaccine expected to arrive in April, minister confirms

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), said: "We have purchased 17m doses of the Moderna vaccine and the manufacturer is currently scaling up their European supply chain, which means these doses would become available in spring 2021 in the UK at the earliest."

READ MORE: Vaccine row heats up as EU doubles down on threat to ban AstraZeneca exports to UK

The UK has been trapped in a row over vaccine deliveries with the EU as the continent battles with rising infections.

On Thursday, European Commission (EC) president Ursula von der Leyen warned that the bloc was "at the start of the third wave of the pandemic.”

France extended their lockdown to three additional regions – the Nievre, Rhone and Aube areas – with the government announcing that the newest wave has a higher number of younger people being admitted to hospitals.

German chancellor Angela Merkel also signalled that she would be declaring France a “high-risk COVID area.”

On Friday, France accused Britain of “blackmail” against the bloc over vaccine supplies.

Last week, von der Leyen said she would halt the export of coronavirus vaccines into Britain unless Boris Johnson surrendered British-made AstraZeneca jabs to the EU.

READ MORE: France accuses the UK of 'blackmail' over vaccine deliveries as EU stops short of export ban

The news follows regulators in Britain and the EU giving the green light to 20-second COVID rapid tests on Friday to help speed up testing capacity and aid the travel sector as economies reopen.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved the registration of the fully-recyclable product, which is provided by London-based firm Histate.

The rapid test, known as Virolens, has been piloted at Heathrow Airport and uses swabs of the cheeks instead of through the nose and tonsils.

The company said it was hoping for a wider rollout over the coming months after trials indicated that the test had 98.1% sensitivity, meaning it returns few false negatives, and 99.7% specificity, meaning few false positives.

Histate added that the results were the “minimum baseline,” and that they could even be more accurate.