The UK government is pledging extra money to fast-track vaccines that fight new variants of coronavirus.
Existing vaccines still protect against variants such as those identified in Kent and South Africa – but experts say it is also vital to stay a step ahead of a virus that keeps mutating.
The concern is about future variants that might escape this immunity.
The £29.3m, on top of £19.7m already promised, will boost testing facilities at the Porton Down research laboratory.
It will also fund vaccine manufacture.
It means scientists can accelerate the pace and scale of their work, the government says.
The cash will allow scientists to test 3,000 blood samples a week, to measure the levels of protective antibodies against Covid-19 generated by different vaccines.
The government is already making plans for a booster Covid-vaccine programme in the autumn, to protect the most vulnerable ahead of winter.
And it may use new, updated vaccines that are a better match for emerging variants.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “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.
“We are committed to supporting the UK’s flourishing life-sciences industry – and this announcement is yet another critical way we will build back better to protect the country over the coming months and years.”
UK Health Security Agency chief executive Dr Jenny Harries 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.”
The government has already announced a deal with biopharmaceutical company CureVac to develop vaccines against future variants, with 50 million doses pre-ordered.