As the UK’s National Health Service warned of a significant reduction in the weekly supply of vaccines to protect against COVID-19 by the end of this month, the focus on Thursday turned to 5 million doses that are expected to be delivered from India.
The Serum Institute of India (SII), which is producing the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines under the label of Covishield as part of a tie-up, was contracted to supply a total of 10 million doses to the UK.
While five million of these have been received, the remaining batch is now held up with some reports indicating that the Indian government may be weighing up domestic needs before clearing exports.
A number of global manufacturers are experiencing issues, UK Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told BBC when asked if the delay had an Indian connection.
We have learned from some of our manufacturers that there are going to be some supply issues in the last few days, he said.
Jenrick stressed that the government remains on track to meet its July-end target to vaccinate all adults in the UK.
“But the main thing is we’re still very much on course, we’ve still got line of sight to deliver the vaccines and to meet our targets,” he said.
An SII spokesperson told BBC: “Five million doses had been delivered a few weeks ago to the UK and we will try to supply more later, based on the current situation and the requirement for the government immunisation programme in India.”
Under UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s roadmap for easing England’s lockdown, more restrictions will be lifted at the end of this month before non-essential shops, hairdressers and gyms reopen on April 12.
Jenrick insisted there was “no reason to believe the roadmap is affected by this temporary shortage in supply”.
The concerns emerged this week when in a letter to local health authorities, NHS England’s vaccine programme in-charge had issued a letter to local authorities to warn that they currently predict the shortage of doses will continue for a four-week period, as a result of reductions in inbound vaccines supply and therefore called for a strict delivery schedule only for the most vulnerable groups over-50.
Vaccination centres were told to close unfilled bookings from March 29 onwards and to ensure no further appointments are scheduled for the whole of April.
The Telegraph’ quoted SII CEO Adar Poonawalla as saying that the supply system is solely dependent on India and it has nothing to do with the SII .
It is to do with the Indian government allowing more doses to the UK,” he was quoted as saying, as he confirmed that 5 million doses of Covishield had already been delivered to the UK in early March.
According to the UK media reports, although the aim had been for SII to deliver the remaining 5 million doses in March, there is no set time schedule for the delivery of the remaining contracted doses.
The rest of the UK’s AstraZeneca doses are being produced domestically and the company says there are no supply issues.
Pfizer, which produces its BioNTech collaborated vaccine in Belgium, says its deliveries to the NHS are also on track.
We will do all we can, and do everything necessary, to secure the supplies that are contractually committed to protecting people in this country, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at a Downing Street briefing on Wednesday evening.
I’m 42, and I’m as eager as anyone to get the jab. But before we forge ahead, I want us to be confident that we’ve done everything we can to protect those most in need of protection, he said.
He was speaking as the NHS marked its 100th day since the first vaccination in December 2020 and confirmed that over 25 million people have now been vaccinated against coronavirus across the UK.
This latest milestone is an incredible achievement representing 25 million reasons to be confident for the future as we cautiously reopen society, said Johnson.
Latest Public Health England (PHE) data shows that around 90 per cent of people aged around 70 and above have anti-Covid antibodies. It is being seen as a reason behind deaths from COVID-19 falling fast, down by more than a third last week.
On Wednesday, the UK recorded another 141 deaths, taking the country’s death toll from the COVID-19 to 125,831.
However, the number of positive cases still remains high, as it jumped by another 5,758 to hit 4,274,579.