UK's return to normality 'by Easter' could be hit by delays in vaccine roll-out

A shortage in medical materials may delay the roll out of the coronavirus vaccine and stop the UK returning to normal ‘by Easter.’

It is understood ‘fill and finish’ supplies such as vials are at ‘critically low’ levels worldwide which could prevent plans to inoculate two million people a week in the first three months of 2021.

Boris Johnson said this week that lockdowns across the UK could be eased by April, but only if the vaccination programme succeeds in ‘driving down the virus’.

Around 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine – which was approved on Wednesday – have been pre-ordered but only 530,000 are available as jabs get under way next week.

The country won’t be able to reach its targets unless the production of vials and specialised bungs is ramped up dramatically, the I paper reports.

Dave Dalton, the chief executive of UK trade body British Glass, told the paper: ‘The supply chain in the UK needs to be strengthened and improved and the supply of medical glass and vials in particular is something that the glass industry has flagged and is ready to help with.

‘We are in dialogue with various Government departments in respect of driving this, and are looking at public-private partnerships alongside other possibilities in order to achieve this a quickly as possible.’

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, told the Downing Street briefing on Wednesday that shortages in ‘fill and finish’ supplies are going to be the ‘only thing that slows down’ the vaccine roll-out.

He said: ‘Many of you know already that it’s not just about vaccine manufacture. It’s about fill and finish, which is a critically short resource across the globe.’

In order to speed up the vaccination process, the Government has announced plans to administer single doses to as many people as possible before second doses are given out.

This would provide more people with some level of protection but the plans have been criticised for potentially going against the science.

Pfizer – one of the drug manufacturers – has said there is ‘no evidence’ the first shot continued to work beyond three weeks.

But Professor David Salisbury, a former director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said he backed the revised Covid-19 vaccine strategy of delaying the rollout of the second jab.

The associate fellow at Chatham House think tank told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Of course I accept it is inconvenient and isn’t helpful to have to change appointments and explain to people (about the delay in receiving a second jab) but the reason for doing this is to save lives.

‘The number vaccinated so far is realistically a trickle when we needed a flood. We know how many have been vaccinated, and across the whole country it isn’t all that many, but every time we give a second dose right now, we are holding that back from someone who is likely, if they get coronavirus, to die and much more likely to die than somebody who has already had a single dose.

‘I just think it is so clear that this is what we should be doing.’

A Government spokesperson said: ‘While fill and finish capacity has been in short supply globally, the UK took quick and decisive action to scale up our domestic vaccine manufacturing capabilities early on.

‘This includes the swift action we took in the summer to secure crucial fill and finish capacity in the UK which is now being used for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, so that the public can receive doses as quickly, safely and effectively as possible.

‘We will start a vaccination programme using this vaccine next week, with 530,000 doses available from Monday and tens of millions by April 2021.’

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