Minister denies India is ‘withholding vaccines’ and insists UK is on course to meet targets

19 March 2021, 08:57 | Updated: 19 March 2021, 10:56

By Patrick Grafton-Green

A minster has denied the Indian government is “withholding vaccines” amid UK supply issues as he insisted the nation is on course to meet its rollout targets.

The Indian government was accused yesterday of temporarily holding a UK shipment of five million Oxford-AstraZeneca doses produced by Serum Institute of India (SII).

CEO of the SII, Adar Poonawalla, told The Daily Telegraph the delay was "solely dependent on India and it has nothing to do with the SII. It is to do with the Indian Government allowing more doses to the UK”.

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However Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told Nick Ferrari at breakfast on LBC on Friday: “India is not withholding vaccines and I pay tribute to the work of the Serum Institiute, they have had some supply issues with five million doses.”

A letter sent by NHS chiefs to local health leaders this week warned vaccine supplies will become "significantly constrained" over a "four-week period" from March 29, and that the focus of the rollout should switch to second doses once all priority groups have been vaccinated.

Mr Dowden insisted the key milestones set out by the Government for the vaccine rollout would be met.

He said: “We are on track as we set out previously, the key milestones.

“We’ve met the first one, that’s the most vulnerable groups by the middle of February, the next target is all over-50s and clinically vulnerable categories by the middle of April, we remain on track for that, then the rest of adults by the end of July.

"It’s always the case there’ll be ups and downs in supply but that’s not pushed us off that trajectory.”

He said the “ups and downs” form “part of our planning assumptions, that’s why we’ve been relatively cautious for example with the roadmap for getting out of lockdown”.

The Government’s roadmap “is not effected so at the moment we remain on course for the next easing on the 29th", he said. 

But he added: “We still need to fully analyse the effect of schools returning, we don’t see any problems at the moment, we won’t get a full picture for a while, if there are concerns around that we’d obviously have to review the dates.”

From March 29, people can meet outdoors, including in private gardens, in groups of six or two households if this constitutes more than six people, while outdoor sports facilities will also reopen.