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UK missed September target for 30 million doses of Covid vaccine

Vaccine taskforce chief now expects only up to four million doses by January

The UK government missed its target to produce 30 million doses of the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine by September, the chair of the government’s Vaccine Manufacturing Taskforce has admitted.

Acknowledging the shortfall in a joint House of Commons Covid inquiry session on 4 November, Kate Bingham said she now expected there to be “up to about four million” doses of the vaccine before the end of the year.

She said the original target was “made in good faith” on 17 May, assuming a linear scale-up in vaccine yield, but that “it hasn’t gone lineally”.

She added: “It’s not through lack of care and attention or availability of equipment…it’s just that normally this takes a very long time.”

Despite delays in production, Bingham said she did not expect supply to be a “great limiting step” to the eventual rollout of the vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, but added that it will take time to assess the vaccine’s efficacy data before it goes through regulatory approvals.

“The earliest possible time to look at the data is going to be late November to December—then it’s still got to go through the regulatory period,” she said. “So actually, we are going to have more vaccine than we will be able to deploy because it will take some time.”

Research Professional News has approached AstraZeneca for comment.

Bingham said that the taskforce had made huge progress and that she was 50 per cent confident that every vulnerable person in the UK would be vaccinated by Easter 2021.

“The UK now has access to six different vaccines across four different formats,” she told the committee. “We’ve secured 350 million doses.”

While praising the speed at which the government had made decisions on vaccines as “an important lasting legacy for how we can do this again in the future”, she also warned that there was a need for “stronger scientific expertise and stronger industrial experience” in government.

Bingham was also asked whether the government’s decision to set up a £100m vaccine production facility in Braintree, Essex, went against its commitment to “level up” the regions of the UK.

Defending the decision, she told MPs: “We are very keen to ensure we have manufacturing capability around the UK but this vaccine plant happened to be in Braintree and therefore this was the one we prioritised.”

No clear date in sight

Elsewhere in the session, Andrew Pollard, head of the University of Oxford’s vaccine trial team, said it was “very difficult” to say whether the vaccine would be deployed before Christmas as analyses of its effectiveness still needed to be carried out.

Meanwhile, Robin Shattock, who is leading the development of an mRNA vaccine at Imperial College London, said their vaccine would take longer than the Oxford vaccine “because we are developing a completely new technology that has never been in clinical trials before”.

“With the right level of support, we could deliver an efficacy signal midway through next year with regulatory approval following closely after that.”

Asked how successful a vaccine would be in treating the virus, Shattock said that, while a vaccine would make life better and reduce fatalities, the UK population is “likely to be living with the consequences of this virus for many years to come”.

“It’s unrealistic to expect that the UK will wake up and hear there is a vaccine that is successful and life gets back to normal immediately.”