Why the UK is facing a vaccine shortage
NHS bosses urged to stop booking jab appointments for under-40s
Just days ago, the government was preparing to ramp up the UK’s vaccination campaign to five million jabs every week. But now health bosses are being warned of an impending shortage of doses.
The NHS has said there will be a month-long “significant reduction” in weekly vaccine supply from the end of March. This means that, contrary to recent expectations, no one under the age of 50 in England will receive a first jab until May.
The news follows a threat by the EU to block vaccine exports to countries with high inoculation rates, including the UK.
The government and the NHS have yet to confirm why the shortage will hit the UK. However, “it is understood to involve the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and not the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine”, The Guardian reports.
An NHS official told the paper that AstraZeneca is experiencing “manufacturing capacity problems”, while a second official said “these are biological products that are being manufactured for the first time and at pace, therefore things could always go wrong”.
With friends like EU
The issue has also been exacerbated after Ursula von der Leyen “upped the ante in an escalating global fight over coronavirus vaccine shipments” yesterday, Politico reports.
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, the EU Commission president “threatened to cut off vaccine exports to countries that refuse to share their own vaccines” in what is being seen as a “thinly veiled shot at the UK”, the news site adds.
“We want to see reciprocity and proportionality in exports, and we are ready to use whatever tool we need to deliver on that,” von der Leyen said, adding that “this is about making sure that Europe gets its fair share”.
The export ban could also hit countries such as Israel and Chile, which are also making good headway with Covid vaccinations.
While The Guardian attributes the shortfall to “delays in delivery of 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca doses from India”, other experts have suggested that a disruption to the delivery of Moderna jabs could also be behind the sudden shortage.
The Telegraph’s senior global health security editor Paul Nuki last night tweeted a leaked vaccine delivery schedule for Scotland, adding: “Could it be the Moderna jabs have failed to come through as originally intended?”
Is it a delay?
While a sudden drop in vaccine deliveries is certainly not a good thing, government sources last week told The Telegraph that the programme “was already far ahead of expectations”.
The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg says the government “became aware of the problem with vaccine shortage in the last 48 hours”, but the campaign is still ahead of where it was expected to be by mid-March.
A senior government official told Politico’s London Playbook that the shortage is “disappointing”, but added: “We’re not missing targets.”
The same senior official told Politico that there is “no danger” of patients that have already received their first dose missing out on their second.
The Financial Times reports that the NHS will need to administer “a minimum of 2 million jabs a week throughout April in order to fulfil its aim of delivering second doses”, but adds that “one senior government insider said this target would still be met”.