Showing off about vaccine supply? Who could possibly have been doing that? And might such bragging already have taken a toll on Britain’s vaccine campaign?
The only people to have bragged about vaccine supply are ministers themselves. Rewind to last summer and you could be forgiven for thinking that we would soon be drowning in the stuff.
On August 14, the Business Secretary Alok Sharma made the third in a string of world-beating vaccine supply announcements with news of a further “90 million” doses.
“It means the UK has placed orders for six experimental vaccines, taking its potential stockpile to 340 million doses,” explained the BBC’s Fergus Walsh. “In theory, there should be enough for everyone in the UK to get five doses.”
Back then ministers were not just saving Britain but saving the world. “Today’s agreements will not only benefit people in the UK but will ensure fair and equitable access of a vaccine around the world, potentially protecting hundreds of millions of lives,” said Mr Sharma.
Speaking on LBC radio on September 7, Health Secretary Matt Hancock added that Britain’s deal with Oxford AstraZeneca for no fewer than “100 million doses” was already bearing fruit.
“We have got 30 million doses already contracted with AstraZeneca. In fact, they are starting to manufacture those doses already, ahead of approval, so that should approval come through … then we are ready to roll out.”
So what’s happened? Why are GPs across the country screaming for more vaccine and why are the Chief Medical Officer and Health Secretary saying that vaccine supply is the “rate-limiting” factor in the UK rollout?
The truth is that production of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab – the only licensed vaccine we have ordered in very substantial volumes – has run into difficulties.
Manufacturing the vaccine in wholesale quantities is a delicate process that takes seven to eight weeks. If something goes wrong you have to start over – and it has gone wrong on multiple occasions. “We were trying to fly the plane and build it at the same time,” said Sir Mene Pangalos of AstraZeneca, a company that is new to large scale vaccine production.