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UK vaccine review calls for more long-term support

Global funding and UK-based manufacturing should emerge stronger from the pandemic, says Royal Institution chairman

An independent review of UK government’s Covid-19 vaccine taskforce has called for more investment in newly established R&D and manufacturing capabilities to ward off future viral threats.

The Vaccine Taskforce was set up in April and since May has been led by Kate Bingham, who reports directly to the prime minister.

In a review of the taskforce’s work published on 8 December, Richard Sykes, chairman of the Royal Institution, notes “enormous progress” by the taskforce in securing 357 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines.

He also praised the government’s £548 million contribution to the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access facility, a global initiative to ensure vaccines are available to poorer countries. Sykes called for this to become “a permanent global facility that can respond to future pandemics”.

He also hailed progress on setting up three vaccine manufacturing sites and new clinical trials facilities which he says establish UK as a “global leader in vaccine R&D”.

“It will be important to ensure that these…initiatives are permanently established, nurtured and governed appropriately…so that the UK maintains the momentum and opportunities that the [taskforce] has created,” Sykes said.

He added that more needed to be done to build long-term vaccine capabilities.

The UK needs “a permanent ecosystem for rapidly developing, manufacturing and supplying vaccines for future pandemics, ensuring domestic resilience and security”, he warns.

“If the UK is to be a global centre of excellence for the next generation of vaccines, then the UK needs to champion its capabilities,” he writes.

In response to the report, Kate Bingham described the taskforce’s work as a “gargantuan challenge”.

“We have cemented the UK’s global leadership in vaccine research, established much stronger manufacturing capability and clinical development capacity, ensuring we are much better prepared if, and when future pandemics arise,” she said.

Bingham is now stepping down as the taskforce chair, and Clive Dix, the current deputy chair, is to take over as interim chair by the end of this month.

Dix said: “We must continue to develop our research and response capabilities in the UK and finish the task of building an infrastructure to enable us to manufacture vaccines at scale.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson said he was “hugely grateful for the hard work and dedication of the Vaccine Taskforce” under Bingham’s leadership which represented “the best the government and civil service can do—working with businesses, experts and the public to tackle a common problem at incredible pace”.