Testing facilities at Porton Down are to be bolstered to help “future proof” the country against the threat of new variants of the virus which causes Covid-19, the Health Secretary has said.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that it will plough more money into the expansion of laboratories at the Wiltshire site where scientists test existing and new vaccines against variants of concern.
Tests on blood samples can help scientists monitor the effectiveness of the coronavirus vaccines.
Current testing capacity is 700 tests a week.
DHSC said this will increase to 1,500 by January 2022 – backed with a previous £20 million investment.
And it said a further £29.3 million investment will double the capacity for testing variant samples to 3,000 per week when the work is completed.
“We’ve backed UK science from the very start of this pandemic and this multi-million pound funding for a state-of-the-art vaccine testing facility at Porton Down will enable us to further future-proof the country from the threat of new variants,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Vaccine Deployment Nadhim Zahawi added: “Our vaccination programme has so far saved thousands of lives, but it’s vital we put in place robust support for the programme for the future.
“This funding will allow us to increase the testing capacity at Porton Down with a new innovative facility and ensure our COVID-19 vaccines are effective against any future variants of concern.”
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said: “A new variant that can escape the current vaccines is the greatest risk of a third wave. This new investment will help us stay one step ahead of the virus by doubling our capacity to test vaccine effectiveness against emerging variants.
“While we expect the existing vaccines to offer protection against new variants, particularly preventing serious illness and death, it is important that we continue to monitor the picture as it develops.”