The UK will produce up to 60m doses of a Covid-19 vaccine under a new deal struck to boost domestic supply, amid fears over potential export bans hitting shipments of vaccines from Europe and India.
A government source said the UK had always intended to build a domestic manufacturing capability but suggested that had been underlined by the bitter dispute with the EU, with Brussels threatening an export ban on supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine based in a Netherlands plant.
The deal announced on Monday with the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) covers the “fill and finish” manufacturing capacity of up to 60m doses of the Novavax coronavirus vaccine.
The vaccine is already being produced at a Fujifilm facility in Stockton-on-Tees, though the UK regulator has yet to approve the jab. The finishing will begin at GSK’s facility in Barnard Castle in County Durham from early May.
Boris Johnson said the deal between GSK, Novavax and the vaccines taskforce would “further boost our vaccine rollout”.
Earlier this month, the company behind the Novavax jab announced it was 86% effective against the Kent variant and 96% effective in preventing cases caused by the original strain of the coronavirus. According to results of a phase three trial in the UK, the jab offers 100% protection against severe disease.
The AstraZeneca vaccine, which is supplying the majority of the UK rollout so far, is mainly manufactured in Oxford and finished in Wrexham, though up to 10m doses were to be supplied from the Serum Institute in India, half of which have been indefinitely delayed.
A Whitehall source said: “This is consistent with our approach so far, but obviously there is an imperative with domestic production. And obviously this is an important technology for the future; we are interested in this for future vaccines.”
The government also expects to receive delivery of the first supplies of the Moderna vaccine within weeks, coming as vaccination centres are preparing to be hit with a significant supply shortage over April due to the delay in delivery from India and a major batch retest of the AstraZeneca jab.
Early on Monday, No 10 played down suggestions that the UK could share some supplies with the Republic of Ireland, a proposal backed by Northern Ireland’s first minister, Arlene Foster, who said she had raised the issue with Johnson earlier this month and would do so again.
“Our first priority is to protect the British public, and the vaccine rollout is continuing to that end,” a Downing Street spokesman said. “We don’t currently have a surplus of vaccines, but we will consider how they are best allocated as they become available.”
Ireland’s taoiseach, Micheál Martin, said he had received no official contact from the UK government on the subject. “I spoke to Boris Johnson six weeks ago. At that stage he was very clear that you have to vaccinate his people first, prior to vaccinating anybody else, and they’re some distance off that.
“There’s been no contact since then or no indication from any officials at the British government level in terms of offering any vaccines. Of course any vaccines that are available, If we require them, of course we will accept them. But there has been no offer at this particular point.”