U.K. Vaccine Rollout to Be Slower Than Hoped

LONDON (Reuters) -
A sign of a NHS vaccination center is seen, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Wembley, London, Jan. 18. (Reuters/Matthew Childs)

Britain said on Thursday that global supply bumps meant its vaccine rollout would be slower than hoped in coming weeks but it expected deliveries to increase again in May, June and July.

British health officials warned on Wednesday that the world’s fastest big economy rollout of the vaccine would face a significant reduction in supplies from March 29.

Pfizer Inc and AstraZeneca Plc said their delivery schedules had not been impacted, and Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick refused to be drawn on whether the issue was due to a problem with supply from India.

“We have less supply than we might have hoped for the coming weeks but we expect it to increase again later,” Jenrick told the BBC.

“The vaccine rollout will be slightly slower than we might have hoped but not slower than the target,” he said. “We have every reason to believe that supply will increase in the months of May, June and July.”

Britain is on track to have given a first shot to half of all adults in the next few days, making it one of the fastest countries to roll out a vaccine.

So far 25.27 million people in the United Kingdom have had a vaccine, around 48% of adults, and Jenrick said Britain remained on track to have vaccinated priority groups by April 15 and all adults by the end of July.

“We always said right from the beginning that a new manufacturing process would have its lumps and bumps and that has been the case in the past and I’m sure it will be in the future,” Jenrick told Sky.

“We’re sourcing vaccines from all over the world and we are experiencing occasionally some issues and that’s led to this, this issue with some supply in the coming weeks,” he said.

Asked if the issue was supply from India, he declined to discuss specific contracts.

Britain is rolling out vaccines made by Pfizer and AstraZeneca, with 10 million doses of the 100 million ordered from AstraZeneca coming from the Serum Institute in India.

AstraZeneca said its domestic supply chain, which produces most of its supply for Britain, was unaffected.

“Our U.K. domestic supply chain is not experiencing any disruption and there is no impact on our delivery schedule,” said a spokesman for the firm, which makes the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford.

The announcement of a supply shortfall coincided with a resurgence in tensions with the European Union, which is frustrated by a lack of exports of AstraZeneca’s vaccine from Britain.

The EU threatened on Wednesday to ban exports of COVID-19 vaccines to Britain to safeguard scarce doses for its own citizens, and Jenrick said the threat from European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen was disappointing.

Pfizer, which supplies Britain with shots from Europe, said first-quarter deliveries to the U.K. remained on track and overall supply for the second quarter remained unchanged. Jenrick said he hoped no barriers to the importation of vaccines would be erected by the bloc.

“I was surprised and disappointed by those comments but the Prime Minister had spoken earlier in the year to Ursula von der Leyen and she gave a very clear commitment, which was that the EU would not engage in this sort of activity, that contractual responsibilities would be honored,” Jenrick said.

“And that’s exactly what we intend to do and I hope and expect the EU to stick to their side of the bargain.”