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COVID-19: Planning for the vaccine (part 1)


Since the first cases of COVID-19 in the UK in January 2020, the impact on society and the economy has been significant. Government’s overall objective since May has been “to return to life as close to normal as possible, for as many people as possible, as fast and fairly as possible”.  A vaccination programme plays a central role in achieving this objective.

Extremely high global demand, coupled with the scarcity of vaccine resources, has put added pressure on government to make fast-paced decisions to secure access to potential vaccines, and to quickly build the capacity to manufacture and deploy them. On 2 December 2020, the first vaccine for use in the UK was approved by the regulator and deployment began on 8 December.

This first inquiry on the development and roll out of a Covid-19 vaccine covers the period from April to 8 December 2020 and examines government’s approach and progress in securing potential vaccines and determining how they will be deployed to the public.

The UK government has worked quickly to secure potential COVID-19 vaccines, successfully signing deals for five vaccines providing up to 267 million doses at an expected cost of £2.9 billion.

The total cost to the taxpayer of government’s efforts to purchase and deploy vaccines is uncertain. The current estimate is up to £11.7 billion which includes the costs of purchasing and manufacturing vaccines for the UK, deploying them in England and investing in global efforts to purchase vaccines. 

Many pharmaceutical companies requested immunity in the event of liabilities or legal action relating to their vaccines, meaning the taxpayer may have to pay the costs of claims against them. In four out of the five contracts agreed so far, no cap has been applied to the amount that government could pay in the event of a successful claim against the pharmaceutical companies.

NHSE&I is planning a vaccination programme with high levels of uncertainty because information about the COVID-19 vaccines is constantly changing. Each potential vaccine requires different plans for rolling it out to the public because each has different characteristics. These include the temperature it should be stored at, its shelf-life once open, and how it should be prepared before it is administered.

In September 2020 NHSE&I calculated that if every adult in England needed to be vaccinated with two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, its vaccination workload would increase by 740%. NHSE&I calculated that it may need up to 46,000 staff consisting of 26,000 vaccinators and 20,000 administrative staff to deliver the COVID-19 vaccination programme based on a 75% take-up rate.

As at 8 December 2020, NHSE&I’s planning assumption is that it could vaccinate up to 25 million people with two doses throughout 2021.

The Committee will question senior officials at the Department for Business, the Department for Health and Social Care, the NHS including the Vaccine Taskforce, and Public Health England. If you have evidence on this first stage of the UK’s vaccination programme – sourcing and preparing the first Covid19 vaccine  - please submit it here by 6pm on Tuesday 5 January 2021