Are ministers LYING to us about vaccine supplies?

Why couldn’t Matt Hancock tell us about India jab fiasco last night? How Government’s story about how many people will be vaccinated and when has constantly changed – culminating in last night’s bombshell sudden shortage revelation

  • Mr Hancock insisted the delays were ‘standard’ and had always been anticipated
  • Claimed No10 was still on track to vaccinate every adults in the UK by end of July
  • But that timeline is huge setback as ministers were confident of going faster 

HOW VACCINE TARGETS HAVE SHIFTED OVER TIME 

January 26

AstraZeneca’s chief executive Pascal Soriot predicted the UK would have vaccinated all over-50s by the end of March. 

February 5

Health Secretary Matt Hancock says all over-50s were expected to be vaccinated by early May.

February 21

No10 announces a target of April 15 to have all over-50s vaccinated. 

March 9

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi says ‘bumper weeks’ of supply would accelerate the rollout in March. 

March 12

Senior Government sources say the vaccine rollout is ahead of schedule and over-40s would be offered a vaccine as early as April 4.

March 17

Matt Hancock acknowledges a fall in supply of the vaccine but insists over-50s will still be vaccinated by April 15.

Matt Hancock was forced to begrudgingly admit that a vaccine shortage will delay Britain’s vaccine drive today after an evasive press conference last night in which he made no mention of the shortfalls until challenged by journalists.

The Health Secretary’s attempt to present the delay as a ‘pause’ in vaccinations for under-50s was only exposed by the release just minutes before he took the podium of an NHS letter revealing the supply problems.

Last night, he tried to blame the delay on a ‘lumpy’ supply chain before finally appearing in the Commons today to announce that India’s decision to block a shipment of around 4million doses was behind the problem.

It follows weeks of increasingly optimistic briefings and promises by vaccines minister Nadim Zahawi of a surge in the number of vaccines to be delivered in March.

That surge will now not happen and a briefing last week that claimed over-40s will be offered jabs in March appears to have also been proven incorrect.

Senior government sources told The Telegraph last week the group would be offered a vaccine by April 4 — more than a week before all over-50s should have been offered their first dose.  

But the Department of Health and Social Care dismissed the claim at the time. — despite hopes of a bumper supply that saw NHS bosses tell vaccination clinics to prepare for twice as many doses from this week. 

A spokesperson added: ‘We have set out our timelines for the vaccination programme and there is no change to this.

‘We intend to offer a first dose to all over-50s by mid-April and all adults by the end of July.’

Matt Hancock last night played down vaccine delays which could see Britons under 50 waiting an extra month for the lifesaving jab, muddling the rollout’s timeline 

Supply figures for the vaccines were always expected to dip in April and May, according to projections published by the Scottish Government in January — before the UK had struck a deal for 10million doses from India. Therefore, the India delivery delay is believed to be separate from these figures

Although the Serum Institute agreed to supply 10million doses of vaccine to the UK, Britain gets most of its AstraZeneca supplies from factories within the country. Most manufacturing is done in Keele and Oxford, with the finishing process completed in Wrexham in North Wales

Confusion about the UK’s vaccine timeline began in January, when AstraZeneca’s chief executive Pascal Soriot predicted the UK would have vaccinated all over-50s by the end of this month.

He told Italian newspaper La Repubblica: ‘By March, the UK will have vaccinated maybe 28 or 30million people. 

‘The Prime Minister has a goal to vaccinate 15million people by mid-February, and they’re already at 6.5million. So they will get there.’ 

That goalpost was shifted back to early May by Health Secretary Matt Hancock at the start of February, stressing the date was dependent on supply.

Speaking at the time, he told The Telegraph: ‘My plan is that we should be able to offer a vaccine to everybody in categories one to nine — that’s all the over-50s — by May.

‘Lots of things have got to go right to hit that goal, especially supply, which is the rate-limiting factor.

‘But I’m sure, working with the NHS and everybody else who is making this happen, that if we keep going at the pace we can, then we can make sure all the over-50s get the offer of a vaccine by May.’

Just over two weeks later, the date was moved forward again, with the Government announcing a target of April 15 to have all the priority group vaccinated.

The Serum Institute of India’s CEO, Adar Poonawalla, is pictured with No10’s International Trade Secretary Liz Truss in February, before news emerged of the deal that it would supply the UK with 10million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine

But No10’s vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said ‘bumper weeks’ of supply would accelerate the rollout this month.

He said: ‘We are working towards accelerating the pace of rollout with some bumper weeks ahead from the middle of this month allowing us to ramp up the vaccination.’

It came just over a week after the UK agreed a deal with the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer, to receive 10million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Previously all 100million doses of the vaccine ordered by the UK were expected to be made between British factories. The UK did receive an unknown amount of AZ’s jab from the Netherlands at the start of January.

NHS bosses last night warned of a vaccine shortage in April, effectively cancelling new first dose appointments until May because of a lack of supplies. 

Government sources immediately claimed the UK’s dilemma was down to a delayed shipment of 5million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine being manufactured on India.

AstraZeneca and Pfizer — the manufacturers of the two jabs being used in Britain — were both quick to dismiss shortage fears. 

AstraZeneca also insisted there were no hiccups with its domestic supply. Its comment implied the problem was coming from abroad, backing up claims from Whitehall insiders that the delayed shipment from the Serum Institute of India was to blame.

Mr Hancock today finally confirmed a delayed shipment from India was behind the vaccine shortage due to hit the UK next month.

This was after he chose to gloss over the actual cause of the shortage in last night’s press conference, instead resorting to his usual jibe of ‘lumpy supplies’.  

The UK was expecting another 5million doses of the Oxford-made vaccine from the Serum Institute to complete its order for 10m but a ‘scheduled’ delivery was pushed back, Mr Hancock told MPs today.

But pouring more confusion on the topic, the SII’s boss insisted it was never under a certain time frame to deliver on all 10million doses it had promised to Britain.

Narendra Modi’s government in New Delhi is in control of exports and blocked the shipment, the Serum Institute’s CEO Adar Poonawalla said, to keep them for their own citizens with the country facing the prospect of a second wave. 

Mr Poonawalla said the company has committed only to helping the UK ‘as and when it can’.

Last month Mr Poonawalla asked other countries to ‘be patient’ and said it had been asked to ‘prioritise the huge needs of India’ and poorer nations.

Coronavirus cases in India are currently at about a third of their peak 2020 levels and the foreign minister said in parliament this week that ‘adequate availability at home’ was top of its priority list, the Financial Times reported.

Mr Hancock told the House of Commons today: ‘We have a delay in the scheduled arrival from the Serum Institute of India.’

And he said a further 1.7million doses of vaccines had been held up because experts had to ‘re-test its stability’, although he did not say which vaccines this affected, nor when the delay happened or how long it was. 

Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick said the Government had learned of vaccine supply issues ‘in the last few days’, and suggested the problem is not due to reductions from a single nation.

The Housing Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We have learned from some of our manufacturers that there are going to be some supply issues in the last few days.

‘A number of global manufacturers are experiencing issues.’

Pressed if the issue was vaccine coming from India, he said: ‘It’s not that there’s any one factory responsible for this or any one country.’

WHY HAS THE UK SUFFERED A COVID VACCINE SHORTAGE AND WHAT WILL IT MEAN? 

The vaccine rollout was plunged into its first real crisis last night as the NHS revealed a major four-week fall in supply, meaning millions of people under 50 now face waiting a much longer wait for their first vaccine appointment than many had hoped. Here, we take a look at what is causing the shortage, how it differs from EU supply threats, and what it actually means for those still waiting for a jab.  

What has happened?

The NHS has written to GPs, hospitals and councils to warn of a looming fall in the supply of coronavirus vaccines.

It said the Vaccines Task Force (VTF) had warned of a ‘significant reduction’ in supplies from the week starting March 29. The VTF, which agreed vaccine deals on behalf of the Government, ‘predicted’ this would continue for four weeks and blamed ‘reductions in national inbound vaccines supply’.

The letter said ‘volumes for first doses would be significantly constrained’. But jab manufacturer AstraZeneca insisted last night the UK supply chain was not being disrupted.

What does this mean?

People would no longer be able to book a jab at a vaccination centre or pharmacy from March 29 to April 30. Anybody already booked in for their first or second dose will not be affected and those in priority groups one to nine can still book for dates before that.

The NHS will continue to focus on ensuring as many as possible in these groups, including all over-50s and the clinically vulnerable, receive the jab. GPs will run pop-up clinics in the likes of retail parks, where eligible people will be able to get the jab even if they have not booked.

But people in lower priority groups, including the over-40s who were next in line, now face a longer wait than was previously expected. The pause in new bookings will be reviewed at the end of March.

How does it affect Government targets?

The Government is confident it will be able to offer a first dose to everyone in the top nine priority groups by April 15. And it is still expecting enough supplies to be able to offer a first dose to all adults by the end of July, as previously promised.

Everyone will be able to get their second dose within six weeks of the first, as advised by the medical regulator. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the nation was ‘ahead of schedule’ on the April 15 target. No 10 insisted there would be no delay to easing lockdown.

When will over-40s get their jab?

The over-40s are next in line and it was anticipated they would be offered an appointment when a significant number of over-50s had had theirs.

The over-50s became eligible this week and the pace of the rollout suggested the NHS could move on to the next cohort by the end of March or early April.

This is now likely to be delayed until May. But some over-40s could be invited for their vaccine after April 15 if supplies allow, sources suggest.

Medics have been told to focus on maximising vaccination uptake in groups 1 to 9 and offering second doses instead of expanding it to others. 

Is it linked to EU supply threats?

Brussels yesterday threatened to block exports of coronavirus vaccines from the EU and complained about a shortage of AstraZeneca supplies. European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said she wanted ‘reciprocity and proportionality’ in exports, pointing out that 10million doses of vaccine had gone from the EU to the UK.

Although Pfizer jabs were crossing the Channel to the UK, AstraZeneca vaccines are not heading the other way, she indicated. She warned the bloc would ‘reflect on whether exports to countries who have higher vaccination rates than us are still proportionate’.

But Government sources last night insisted the two issues were not connected. The UK is not volunteering any of its supplies to the EU and none of its orders are being siphoned off by AstraZeneca, sources insisted.

Mr Hancock said the supply of vaccines to the UK from EU production facilities was ‘fulfilling contractual responsibilities and we fully expect those contracts to be delivered on’.

How many jabs have been given so far?

The bombshell letter came as the Government celebrated reaching the milestone of vaccinating 25million people in the first 100 days of the programme.

The Department of Health and Social Care said 25,273,226 in the UK have received their first dose of AstraZeneca of Pfizer vaccine between December 8 and March 16. Around 1.7 million have also had their second dose. Half of the adult population of the UK is 26.3million.

Officials said the milestone brings people ‘one step closer to safely seeing our friends and family again’. Some 95 per cent of people aged 65 and over have had their first dose, as have nine in ten of those clinically extremely vulnerable.

Boris Johnson said: ‘This latest milestone is an incredible achievement – representing 25 million reasons to be confident for the future as we cautiously reopen society.’

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