Assistant Nurse Katie McIntosh gives Vivien McKay, Clinical Nurse Manager at Western General Hospital, the first of two Pfizer / BioNTech COVID-19 shots on the first day of the largest vaccination program in UK history in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK December 8 2020.
Andrew Milligan | Reuters
LONDON – The UK government is facing questions whether the country is on the verge of a coronavirus vaccine shortage, a factor that could affect its so far successful vaccination program.
“We have less supply than we had hoped for in the coming weeks, but we assume that it will increase again later,” said housing secretary Robert Jenrick on Thursday to the BBC.
“The vaccine rollout will be a little slower than we hoped it would be, but not slower than the target,” he said. “We have every reason to believe that supply will increase in May, June and July.”
Jenrick later told Sky News that the government “sources vaccines from all over the world and we occasionally have some problems and that has led to this problem with some supply in the coming weeks.”
Jenrick’s comments come amid a spate of reports in the UK media that the UK rollout may be close to some turmoil. It has been widely reported that a shipment of millions of cans of the Oxford AstraZeneca shot produced by the Serum Institute of India could be delayed by four weeks.
Jenrick, however, refused to comment on certain contracts. CNBC has approached the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, for comment on the reports but has yet to receive a response.
According to Reuters, ten million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine should come from the SII in early March. In total, the UK has ordered 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, with the bulk of the supply coming from the UK
However, the UK also faces potential disruptions in supply if the EU makes a proposal to withhold exports of block-made vaccines while its own program is lagging behind. The supplies of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, which the UK also uses in its vaccination program, come from Belgium.
Since its launch in December, the UK healthcare system has monitored the vaccination of over 25 million people with a first dose of the vaccine. More than 1.7 million people have now received a second dose of the two-shot vaccines currently used in the UK, government data shows.
“Still on the right track”
According to the BBC, the National Health Service had already warned “in April in a letter to the local health organizations” against a reduction in the offer for England.
However, the government has stated that it is still on track to offer a first dose of the vaccine to all over 50s by April 15 and a first vaccination to all UK adults by the end of July.
“The vaccination program will continue in the coming weeks and more people will continue to receive the first and second dose,” a spokesman for the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs said in a statement on Wednesday evening.
“As has been the case since the program began, the number of vaccinations given over time will vary based on supply.”
Global health experts have long warned that vaccines, their supply and distribution could be an area where there could be discord between countries and regions.
Dr. Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization, told CNBC Thursday that the public health authority knew from the start of the pandemic that vaccine distribution would be a “big problem”.
“This is exactly what has happened in previous outbreaks. Some groups and countries had good access (to vaccines) and even excessive access, while many countries had nothing. We saw this during the 2009 pandemic flu,” she told CNBC’s Squawk Box Europe “.
“We’re really encouraging manufacturers to take steps so that more manufacturing companies around the world can really increase supply,” she said.
The UK vaccination program was his rescue after the pandemic that hit the country hard. The UK has had the fifth highest number of cases in the world, with over 4.2 million reported infections, and has recorded over 126,000 deaths to date, according to Johns Hopkins University.