In Brief

Coronavirus: inside the ‘scrambled’ UK deal for five million Moderna vaccines

Fears over Trump’s ‘vaccine nationalism’ and European supplies led British ministers to prioritise other agreements

As news of another vaccine breakthrough emerged yesterday morning, ministers and civil servants rushed to finalise a deal to buy five million doses - at a cost of £95m.

Although the UK has secured 350 million doses of six Covid-19 jabs, most of which are still undergoing trials, “the Moderna vaccine is not one of those which the government has pre-ordered”, says The Spectator.

The reason, says The Times, is that “large-scale production of the Moderna vaccine is not expected in Europe until April”. As a result, “reaching agreement with other companies that can manufacture more rapidly was prioritised in the hope of starting mass immunisation before the year’s end”.

A reluctance to deal with a US company amid “vaccine nationalism” and “concerns over unpredictable behaviour by the US president” also played a part, The Guardian reports. Ministers were reportedly concerned that Donald Trump might commandeer injections before they could be sent to the UK.

Finally, says Politico, the government “wanted to see the Phase 3 results before agreeing a deal”. When those results suggested that the vaccine was 95% effective, ministers and officials “hit Zoom and rushed through an agreement with Moderna”.

The last-minute response had led to “fears that Britain had missed out on supplies”, says The Guardian, especially as “the UK had also shunned the EU vaccine purchase scheme, arguing in July that the government could source vaccines faster on its own”.

That confidence appeared to be justified yesterday, when EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said she had “not yet concluded or signed a contract” with Moderna, although “negotiations with the company are ongoing”.

Aside from the Moderna jab, the UK has ordered 40 million doses of the 90% effective Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine - and 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine candidate, which is still in Phase 3 trials.

Ministers “remain hopeful” that the Oxford jab “could be available soon - even by Christmas - with results of that trial reported to be imminent”, says The Guardian.

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