Matt Hancock said there would be a significant drop in vaccine supply in April, confirming supplies were hit by the need to retest 1.7 million doses and a delay in the arrival of imports from India.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Hancock stressed that the overall target schedule for vaccinations would not change, but said he wanted to give more information, following “speculation that we have seen from day to day. next day ”, after being criticized for a press conference on Wednesday where the drop in supply remained unexplained.
“Last week we had a batch of 1.7 million doses delayed due to the need to retest its stability,” he said. “Events like this are to be expected in a manufacturing company of this complexity and it shows the rigor of our security controls. And we have a delay in the scheduled arrival of the Serum Institute of India. “
However, speaking to The Guardian earlier, a source authorized to speak on behalf of the institute denied any delay in delivering the vaccines, saying there had been no agreed timeframe to deliver a second tranche of the vaccine. 5 million doses.
The source said that there had been no delays from the Indian government and that it had approved the exports, although the authorization depends on the situation in India, which has changed significantly over the past fifteen years. last few weeks.
Government sources also declined to specify which batch of vaccine was affected by the need to retest supplies to ensure stability.
The Health Secretary said there would inevitably be some uncertainty in the manufacturing process. “The pace of deployment has always been determined by the availability of supply. The vaccine manufacturing process is complicated and subject to unpredictability, ”he said.
“We are publicly committed to achieving targets that we can achieve, based on our best estimates of future supply. This supply increases and decreases. “
Hancock said the UK was currently experiencing “exceptional weeks of supply” but that would drop. The slowing of the first doses would also come from the need to use the supply to deliver second doses in order to meet the 12-week deadline, Hancock said.
“We have a large number of second doses to deliver in April. About 12 million people, including many colleagues at this house, will receive their second dose. These second doses cannot be delayed as they must be administered within 12 weeks of the first dose. “
Hancock went out of his way to praise the Serum Institute of India, as well as vaccine producers Pfizer and AstraZeneca, saying the institute was doing an “incredible job” in producing vaccines for the whole world.
“Their technology and capabilities, which have been approved by the MHRA, are remarkable. It is truly a partnership of which we can be proud, ”he told MEPs.
He said no appointments would be canceled and the goals were still on track. “There will be no weeks in April without first doses, there will be no canceled appointments due to supply issues. The second doses will go as planned. “
Hancock also announced that Gibraltar had become “the first nation in the world to complete its entire adult immunization program”, calling it “a success thanks to a team spirit within the British family of nations”.
After a slow start, India’s immunization program has more than doubled the number of doses it administers each day compared to last week, which in turn is likely to have increased its demand on the supply of the institute.
India has sold or offered around 59 million doses of the vaccine abroad, compared to the 37 million it administered at home, with an additional 38 million distributed to state governments and awaiting use. The Indians broadly supported their government’s program of “vaccine maitri” (friendship for vaccines), but the country’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar told parliament on Wednesday that exports and donations were “based on l ‘assessment of adequate availability in the country’.
AstraZeneca has partnered with the institute, which is the world’s largest vaccine maker, to supply the Indian government and other countries, including low- and middle-income countries.
A member of the UK government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Vaccination admitted Thursday morning that Covid infections could increase due to the delay in people aged 40 and under getting vaccinated.
Adam Finn, who advises UK health departments on immunization and is professor of pediatrics at the University of Bristol, told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that immunization of those under 50 “could start a little later than we hoped so optimistically ”.
Finn said the decline in hospital admissions is expected to continue as long as all over 50s and vulnerable people are vaccinated on time. He said the 12 weeks between the first and second dose should “not be allowed to slip significantly.”