London: Thousands of volunteers will receive a booster COVID-19 vaccine in a new clinical trial launching on Wednesday to study the impact of the third jab to protect against the deadly virus, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced.

The Cov-Boost study will trial seven vaccines to provide data on the impact of a third dose on patients’ immune responses, as Britain confirmed 2,967 cases of the B1.617.2 variant first discovered in India up from the 2,323 on Monday.

During a briefing from 10 Downing Street in London, Hancock reiterated UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s earlier statement from the House of Commons that there is increasing confidence that the vaccines currently being administered are effective against the B1.617.2 variant, which has been found to be more easily transmissible from person to person .

“Strong evidence shows the vaccines protect you and your loved ones from serious illness and they also reduce transmission, which is why we’ve introduced additional surge measures in the areas with rising cases of the variant first identified in India,” said Hancock.

“Vaccines are turning the tide against this pandemic and I’m incredibly proud the UK has one of the highest uptake rates in the world, with 90 per cent of people saying that they have had or will have the jab,” he said.

Relaying latest data, the health minister said that hospitalisations and deaths from COVID-19 remain very low but there was a need to proceed with vigilance .

Health services across the UK have now administered a total of 57.8 million vaccines between December and May, including 36.9 million people with their first dose (70.2 per cent) and 20.8 million with both doses (39.6 per cent).

The UK vaccination programme has been a phenomenal national effort, with seven in 10 UK adults now having had their first COVID-19 jab. It is vital that we continue to support the world-renowned British research sector that has contributed to its success, said Hancock.

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“We will do everything we can to future-proof this country from pandemics and other threats to our health security, and the data from this world-first clinical trial will help shape the plans for our booster programme later this year. I urge everyone who has had both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, and is eligible, to sign up for this study and play a part in protecting the most vulnerable people in this country and around the world for months and years to come,” he said.

The Cov-Boost study will be led by University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and backed by 19.3 million pounds of government funding through the Vaccines Taskforce.

Dubbed a world-first, it is designed to give scientists from around the globe and the experts behind the UK’s COVID-19 vaccination programme a better idea of the impact of a booster dose of each vaccine in protecting individuals from the virus.

The study will take place at 16 National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) supported sites across England, and also within Health and Care Research Wales and NHS Research Scotland sites. It will include a total of 2,886 patients and participants are to begin being vaccinated from early June.

All participants will be monitored throughout the study for any side effects and will have bloods taken to measure their immune responses at days 28, 84, 308 and 365, with a small number having additional blood tests at other times. All sites will have an electronic diary for all participants that will send alerts to the team in real time if needed and a 24-hour emergency phone to a doctor on the study, who can provide further clinical advice.

The initial findings, expected in September, will help inform decisions by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on plans for a booster programme from autumn this year, ensuring the country’s most vulnerable are given the strongest possible protection over the winter period.

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