THERE are concerns hundreds of jobs at a North East factory, which has been earmarked to make a Covid vaccine, could be at risk if the jab is not submitted to regulators for approval.

The jobs of around 300 people working on the Novavax vaccine at the Fujifilm Diosynth plant in Billingham, near Stockton, could be thrown into jeopardy unless bosses submit the jab for approval, it has been suggested.

Read Fujifilm's response here: Fujifilm respond after concerns over future of jobs after delays to North East made jab

It comes as the Government was forced to step in last week after around 15,000 trial volunteers – including hundreds in the region – were unable to travel abroad as their vaccine had not been approved.

Read more: North East Novavax volunteers will be able to have TWO jabs after huge backlash

Last night, the Government were urged to provide “answers” on the progress of the vaccine as they were urged to clarify whether the jobs and investment, promised at the start of the year, would be “safeguarded.”

The Northern Echo: The Fujifilm Diosynth factory in Billingham Picture: NORTHERN ECHOThe Fujifilm Diosynth factory in Billingham Picture: NORTHERN ECHO

Speaking to The Northern Echo, Labour MP for Stockton North, Alex Cunningham called for urgent clarification as he said the Prime Minister had “dashed up” to the region when Novavax was first announced, but criticised the Government's actions following the delays.

Read more: Government urged to 'take action' over impact of Novavax on North East participants

He said: “I’m pleased that those who stepped forward for Novavax trials are now able to have an alternative dose, although it’s disappointing that it took so long and required external pressure for the Government to finally provide the clarity people needed.

"Novavax was announced to much fanfare, with even the Prime Minister dashing up to Billingham for a photo op.

"We now need answers from the Government about when or if it will get approval, and if the jobs and investment promised as part of the vaccine manufacturing process will be safeguarded.”

The Northern Echo: The Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit earlier this year Picture: SARAH CALDECOTTThe Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit earlier this year Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

Back in February this year, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited the plant on Teesside as the Government confirmed it had ordered 60 million doses of the jab, if it was approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Read more: Boris Johnson visits the Billingham plant where coronavirus vaccine will be made

At the time, around 300 workers had begun round-the-clock shifts in production at the plant and it was widely believed that the vaccine would be approved within weeks, ready in the second half of the year.

Meanwhile, the Tees Valley Mayor said he hoped the vaccine would be given the go-ahead as he said Novavax would be "another weapon" in the fight against Covid.

But also responding to the delays, Mayor Ben Houchen last night said he would now be speaking with Fujifilm bosses as well as the Government following delays. 

He said: “Fujifilm continues to play a vital role in our innovative and growing life sciences sector.

The Northern Echo:

"I will be speaking to Fujifilm soon to understand if they need any further support in the face of these delays, as well as talking to Government to get the process moving so we can benefit from this opportunity as soon as possible.”

Read more: Teesside made Novavax Covid-19 vaccine faces long delays

Novavax, who previously admitted that timeframes had "shifted" from its original plans, is yet to seek approval with regulators, despite passing the final stage of clinical trials in the UK earlier this year.

It first emerged that the vaccine was facing delays to submissions to UK regulators back in August, when sources close to the trials said it may not be approved and ready until mid-2022.

The Echo asked Novavax whether it would still be progressing with plans to seek approval in the UK, despite suffering from delays and in response said it remained "committed" to doing so.

In response, a spokesperson did not provide a timescale but last night said: "Novavax remains committed to filing for EUA in the UK and we are working as quickly as possible to complete our regulatory submission to MHRA."

The concerns come as volunteers earlier this week said they had "lost confidence" in the company after the Government agreed to allow trial participants have two doses of an alternative vaccine.

Read more: North East trial volunteer says confidence 'lost' in Teesside-made Novavax jab

One man, who wishes to remain anonymous, said the Government's intervention "backed up" the "widespread" view that there was concern after delays in production.

On Friday, the Department of Health and the Joint Committee and Vaccination on Immunisation (JCVI) said that Novavax trial volunteers would be able to have two alternative jabs of Pfizer.

That followed mounting pressure after volunteers were left unable to travel abroad as their jab was not recognised abroad, while others feared their level of protection were "declining" as they were unable to have another dose.

The MHRA and Fujifilm Europe were approached for comment but did not respond in time for publication.

Downing Street chose not to comment.


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