Half of UK could have to wait until 2022 for Covid-19 vaccine

16 December 2020, 06:13

90 year old Margaret Keenan, the first patient in the UK to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine,
90 year old Margaret Keenan, the first patient in the UK to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine,. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

More than half of the UK population could have to wait until 2022 to get the coronavirus vaccine, the National Audit Office (NAO) has said.

The public spending watchdog said that 267 million doses of vaccines have been bought by the government - costing £2.9 billion.

It also said that NHS England and NHS Improvement "is planning on the assumption it could vaccinate up to 25 million people with two doses throughout 2021",

This would be an increase of 64.1 million vaccinations compared to 2019/2020, but means more than half the UK population could be waiting until 2022 to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

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The NAO also said the total the government will spend on buying and deploying vaccines and investing in global access schemes could top £11.7 billion.

But the figure does not cover the costs of any future potential multi-year vaccination programmes.

25 million people are expected to be vaccinated in 2021
25 million people are expected to be vaccinated in 2021. Picture: PA

No cap has been applied to the amount the Government could have to pay if there is a successful claim against the companies in four of the five contracts agreed so far, the NAO said.

The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, as well as 40 million of the Pfizer, seven million of the Moderna, 60 million of Valneva SE, and 60 million of the Novavax Inc jabs.

The Pfzier vaccine is already being rolled out by the NHS after it was approved by the regulator.

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Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: "Developing and securing an effective vaccine is central to reducing the impact of Covid-19 on society and saving lives.

"Government has worked quickly and effectively to secure access to potential vaccines, using the available information to make big decisions in an inherently uncertain environment.

"With one vaccine now approved for use and its rollout started, significant challenges remain. Efficient delivery to the UK population presents complex logistical challenges and requires excellent communication with the public."

Labour MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said the Government was right to have backed a "number of horses" but that the accountability arrangements were "highly unusual".

She said: "Scientists and the regulator have done phenomenal work, achieving a breakthrough that would normally take at least a decade in less than a year.

"It was clearly right to back a number of horses - nobody could have known which vaccines would work, or when they might be approved. But the accountability arrangements were highly unusual - even though huge sums of money are involved.

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"The organisations who know how to carry out mass vaccination campaigns didn't always have a seat at the table when decisions were taken.

"The logistical challenges of vaccinating tens of millions of people - on top of the other pressures on the NHS - can't be underestimated. We aren't over the finish line yet, and the vaccination programme must not fall at the last hurdle."

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said: "As the report rightly notes, we have worked at a pace and scale never been done before to ensure the British public receive a vaccine that meets strict safety standards as quickly as possible.

"The UK was the first country in the world to procure and authorise the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and to begin a vaccination programme last week. Thanks to the work of our Vaccine Taskforce, the UK is now in an exceptionally strong position with a diverse portfolio of 357 million doses of some of the world's most promising vaccine candidates.

"To ensure our country is in the best position to make any Covid-19 vaccine available as quickly as possible and respond to future pandemics, we have worked to build an entire domestic vaccine manufacturing base from scratch by investing in state-of-the-art facilities across the country."