We’ll never rely on EU again! NHS boss says bloc attempts to thwart UK rollout will fail

Simon Stevens on issues with ‘very extended supply chains’

Yesterday the European Commission announced it was introducing export licences for all jabs leaving the bloc after the EU’s lacklustre start to its vaccination programme. The EU has suffered from supply shortages and a slow rollout of vaccinations.

The new export rules, which could come into place within days, would allow the EU to ban vaccines from travelling to the UK.

Giving evidence to MPs this morning, the chief executive of NHS England said while it “would be a worry” if Brussels banned exports, the UK had secured large supplies from other manufacturers.

He told the Health Select Committee the Government and done well to “secure our vaccine supply from multiple sources” meaning the UK was not solely reliant on drugs manufactured in the EU.

The UK was quick off the mark to secure doses of vaccines around the world and has ordered more jabs than any other country.

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Britain has 357 million doses of jabs from seven different candidates on order, enough to vaccinate the UK three times over.

So far only the Oxford and Pfizer jabs are being rollout across the country, with the Moderna vaccine also authorised for use once it is manufactured.

Pfizer’s factory is in Belgium with Britain having already ordered 40 million doses from the drugs giant.

However, the AstraZeneca jabs are manufactured in the UK.

Sir Simon said: “We have a combination of sourcing from Oxford/AstraZeneca, principally out of this country, and Pfizer/BioNtech from continental Europe.”

However, he said when “thinking about lessons learnt from the pandemic”, the UK should work to ramp up its manufacturing capabilities at home so Britain is less reliant on other countries in future.

He said: “I think one of the things that arises from this is this that alongside international co-operation, actually having strong UK manufacturing capabilities – particularly in life sciences – is an important part of our future resilience.”

In what appeared to be a pointed remark following the EU’s announcement yesterday, he added: “Very extended supply chains do not necessarily serve you well.”

Despite the EU’s introduction of export licences, UK Vaccine Deployment minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said this morning he was not worried about a shortage in supply from Pfizer.

He said Britain was still on track, including offering all adults a first dose by the autumn and 15 million of the most vulnerable a jab by February 15.

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He said: “I’m confident that the Pfizer vaccine will be delivered.

“Pfizer have made sure that they have always delivered for us, they will continue to do so.

“They have made a very important announcement on the equitable supply of the whole world, including the European Union, and I’m sure they will deliver for the European Union, the United Kingdom and for the rest of the world.”

Sir Simon praised the work of the Government, UK drugs regulator, and the NHS in the progress made so far in the rollout of Covid jabs.

He said: “The reality is we are off to a strong start with vaccination.

“We have a shared interest in every country doing well in vaccination given that the virus moves across borders with extreme ease.

“But equally, this country did well to secure our vaccine supply from multiple sources, our regulator did well to expeditiously but authoritatively look at the safety and efficacy data, and I think GPs and hospitals and all of our partners are doing well to get the vaccinations now underway quickly.”

So far nearly 6.6 million people in the UK have been immunised against the virus.

The NHS is injecting doses at a pace of 250 jabs every minute.

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