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Supply and planning issues threaten UK’s “world beating” vaccine achievements

12 February 2021

In a report published today the Public Accounts Committee commends Government for its "world beating" progress buying and starting to roll out vaccines as it launched the "largest vaccination programme in the UK's history" in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:  supporting the development of potential vaccines, striking deals with pharmaceutical companies and starting to vaccinate some of the most at-risk members of society.

But the Committee warns that despite this significant achievement, supply issues are key among factors that mean there is "much to be done" to adapt to changes in the pandemic and virus itself and meet the Government’s next targets.  The Committee calls for Government to set out plans for adapting the vaccine programme by end of April.  

In January, the Prime Minister pledged that the NHS would vaccinate or offer a vaccination to around 12.2 million people in the top four priority groups across the UK by Monday 15 February – "a huge task which it appears to be on track to deliver".  NHSE&I then plans to offer a vaccine to the remaining five priority groups (around 17.7 million people) by the end of April, with everyone who wants one offered a vaccine by Autumn 2021.  

At the point of PAC's evidence session on the vaccine programme, on the 11th of January, 2.5 million of the most vulnerable people across the UK had received at least one dose of a vaccine against COVID-19.  At the time of print on 10 February 2021, more than 13 million doses had been delivered:  12.6 million first doses and 516,392 second doses.

The Committee is concerned by lack of planning for the next phase of the vaccination programme, when applying lessons learned so far "will be so vital to the programme’s success". It says that by March 2021 DBEIS, DHSC, NHSE&I and Public Health England must "have in place plans to respond to potential future developments such as changes to the prioritisation list; an annual vaccination programme; or the discovery of new variants of the virus." High global demand for the vaccines that have been approved means it is vital government builds on momentum to date if the vaccine programme is "to be a success and have offered a vaccine to all those who want one by autumn 2021". 

Echoing its recent report on PPE procurement, the Committee says Government and its Vaccine Taskforce have "not quite struck the right balance between making decisions quickly and maintaining transparency" and there remains some uncertainty over key issues. 

With misinformation about vaccines being circulated on various digital platforms clear communication from government is particularly important to maintain public confidence and take up, but the Committee says Government has at times "struggled to communicate clearly to the public about what they can expect from the vaccine programme", risking "confusion about who will be able to access the vaccine, how and when". As the first phase reaches its end clear communication about the next phase is vital.

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said

"We recognise the huge efforts made by all those involved in developing, procuring, testing and delivering the vaccines. The UK has been at the forefront of the global effort to find and deliver a vaccine but now is not the time to rest on our laurels – Covid 19 remains a significant threat to our nation’s health and economy. Vaccination is a key component in meeting that threat and the Committee calls on the Government to build on this strong start, including building on work to boost the UK manufacturing base.

Misinformation about the vaccine is rife and the Government needs to provide unambiguous information on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine and clear messages about the groups that will be offered the vaccine over the coming months."

Further information

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