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AstraZeneca says it can deliver 2m doses a week ‘imminently’

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Vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi and AstraZeneca bosses REFUSE to reveal how many doses of Covid jabs the UK is getting claiming it is a ‘national security’ concern

  • Tom Keith-Roach, president of AstraZeneca UK, pledged to hit 2m doses a week before mid-February
  • He also claimed No10 was stopping the firm from revealing just how many doses it had already supplied  
  • UK’s vaccine minister also declined to give details on week-by-week delivery figures when quizzed by MPs 

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Britain’s Covid vaccine minister was grilled and branded ‘very annoying’ by MPs today for refusing to say how many doses the UK has available and would get in the next week as the immunisation programme ramps up. 

Nadhim Zahawi, the Government’s minister for Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment, and bosses of pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said they couldn’t put numbers on the vaccine deliveries because of ‘national security’.

Speaking to MPs on Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee this morning, AstraZeneca’s UK president, Tom Keith-Roach, said the Government’s Vaccines Taskforce had told the company not to publicly reveal any numbers, and Mr Zahawi later refused to do it on behalf of the Government. 

Mr Keith-Roach said AstraZeneca – which is manufacturing Oxford University’s jab – had delivered 1.1million doses to the NHS so far and would hit 2million per week ‘imminently’. He said he was ‘confident’ that there would be more than a million doses given out next week but refused to be any more specific.

Mr Keith-Roach said AstraZeneca would definitely hit the weekly target before mid-February, by which time Boris Johnson has pledged to get vaccines to the 13million most vulnerable people in England and to review the lockdown rules.

Labour MP Graham Stringer told Mr Zahawi ‘these answers are very annoying’ as he refused to put numbers to the progress of the vaccine roll-out, and the chair of the science committee, Conservative MP Greg Clark, urged him to ‘be more forthcoming’ in future. 

The secrecy around how fast the vaccine doses are being produced means it’s impossible to tell whether Britain is delivering on its pledge to dish out jabs as quickly as it gets them or whether supply issues are truly to blame for the slow start to the huge NHS drive, as ministers have claimed. 

Figures suggest more than 150,000 people are now getting vaccinated each day, with the number yesterday increasing by 165,000 from 2.3m on Monday to 2.4m on Tuesday.

In the week between Sunday, January 3, and Sunday, January 11, the total number of people vaccinated across the UK doubled from 1,296,432 to 2,431,648, suggesting they were given out at an average rate of 162,174 per day.

Ministers have repeatedly said the manufacturing and quality-testing process, which takes around three months per batch, is the ‘rate-limiting factor’ that is slowing down the process. 

They insist the NHS is equipped to give out vaccinations as fast as it can get its hands on them. And one member of the Government has taken a hands-on approach to making sure this happens – deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam was pictured working at the vaccine clinic in Nottingham at the weekend.

AstraZeneca's UK president, Tom Keith-Roach

Nadhim Zahawi, the Government’s minister for Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment (left), and AstraZeneca’s UK president, Tom Keith-Roach (right) both refused to reveal the number of doses of the Oxford jab that will be available to use in the UK next week

Deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam – a trained doctor – is now taking a personal stake in the vaccine roll-out by joining front-line medics in Nottingham where he helped to immunise people on Sunday

Deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam – a trained doctor – is now taking a personal stake in the vaccine roll-out by joining front-line medics in Nottingham where he helped to immunise people on Sunday

When asked by members of the science committee to explain how many doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine were being delivered in Britain, Mr Zahawi tried to deflect the question before saying it was a national security issue.

He said: ‘The NHS plan has built a deployment infrastructure that can handle the volume that the manufacturers can deliver, that’s the assurance I can give you.’ 

Mr Zadhawi explained that batches of vaccines must be tested both by the manufacturer and then the MHRA before they can be used. 

JONATHAN VAN-TAM JOINS NHS VACCINE DRIVE IN NOTTINGHAM 

England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, helped the vaccine roll-out first hand on Sunday when he volunteered at a medical centre in Nottingham, giving jabs to elderly local centres.

Professor Van-Tam, a trained doctor, was pictured working in full scrubs and protective equipment at the Richard Herrod Centre in Nottingham on Sunday. 

When not advising the Government he works as a medicine lecturer at Nottingham University and is a flu and viruses expert and former hospital doctor.   

Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Clinical Commissioning Group posted pictures on social media of Professor Jonathan Van-Tam.

Professor Van-Tam, left, is shown helping out at the Richard Herrod Centre's vaccination clinic in Nottingham

Professor Van-Tam, left, is shown helping out at the Richard Herrod Centre’s vaccination clinic in Nottingham

The tweets said that despite helping to lead the national pandemic response, Professor Van-Tam was supporting the vaccine roll-out as a volunteer in his spare time.

Professor Van-Tam, known affectionately as JVT, said: ‘Thank you to all the volunteers and staff for the professional and warm welcome. 

‘We are at the worst stage of the pandemic so far and the situation is extremely concerning but your contribution will make a positive difference’. 

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On why he wouldn’t give a weekly number he said: ‘Batches could move week by week because a batch may fail, so it would be, I think, misleading to say to this committee and the house ‘this is what we’re getting’ because the batches do move around and this is part of the supply chain challenge that we have…’

He added: ‘It’s not about wanting to withhold information from a committee, although there is a consideration here because the whole world is looking to acquire vaccines at the moment and the more we say or, dare I say, show off about how many vaccines [or] batches we’re receiving, the more difficult life becomes for the manufacturers.’

Chair of the meeting Greg Clark laughed and said: ‘They’re not going to zoom into the country and confiscate them from us’.

At the end of the meeting, during which Mr Zahawi had repeatedly refused to put numbers on the roll-out, Mr Clark added: ‘We do think that, in keeping with the scientific tradition, that openness and transparency to allow people to be treated as adults and to understand the ups and downs of processes, I think has served us well so far…

‘I hope when it comes to some of these figures, and some of these schedules, that you will find the confidence to perhaps be a little more forthcoming in terms of what’s in store in the future – if we ask questions about it it’s because we have the same interest as you do in making it work.’ 

Boris Johnson today waded into the confusion over the speed of the vaccine roll-out as he caved into pressure to confirm the UK will dish out vaccines 24/7 ‘as soon as we can’.

Announcing his latest U-turn in Prime Minister’s Questions, the PM claimed the current hold-up was caused by a limited supply as manufacturers can’t produce enough to keep all the vaccinators working constantly.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock also hinted a lack of supply was behind the move to get GPs to delay jabs to allow other less-vaccinated parts of the country to catch up.

Number 10 promised to dish out the jabs as quickly as it gets them, in the hope of vaccinating the 13.9million most vulnerable residents by February 15 and getting the UK out of lockdown. But Department of Health statistics show Britain still needs to inoculate 340,000 people a day to have hit the target — nearly 2.4million per week.

With a successful roll-out of the inoculation drive the light at the end of the endless lockdown tunnel, health chiefs have pledged to deliver jabs at 2,700 sites dotted across the UK — including at 50 mass centres and hundreds of local pharmacies. 

And Asda today revealed one of its Birmingham stores will dish out the Covid jab, becoming the first supermarket to offer the dish out the jabs on January 25. Superdrug and Boots are expected to begin administering jabs at one site each tomorrow, despite mounting pressure on the NHS to let all 11,000 pharmacies across Britain dish out jabs to help the scheme pick up pace.

Mr Zahawi also said that it was his ‘instinct’ that frontline key-workers would be next in line for the vaccine after the most at-risk were immunised but said the Government would be guided by the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisations (JCVI).

It comes as Boris Johnson today hailed ‘early’ signs that the brutal lockdown is bringing coronavirus under control as he clashed with Keir Starmer at PMQs — but refused to rule out tightening the rules further.

Home Secretary Priti Patel revealed on Tuesday that 2.43million people have now had their first dose, up from 2.29m yesterday. Another 20,000 second doses were also added onto the cumulative total

Home Secretary Priti Patel revealed on Tuesday that 2.43million people have now had their first dose, up from 2.29m yesterday. Another 20,000 second doses were also added onto the cumulative total

How the Government’s vaccine plan breaks down 

PHASE 1 (FEB 15 TARGET)

CARE HOME RESIDENTS – 300,000

CARE HOME WORKERS – 500,000

AGE 80+ – 3,300,000

HEALTHCARE WORKERS – 2,400,000

SOCIAL CARE WORKERS – 1,400,000

AGE 75-79 – 2,300,000

AGE 70-74 – 3,200,000

CLINICALLY EXTREMELY VULNERABLE (UNDER 70) – 1,200,000

PHASE 2 (SPRING)

65-69 2,900,000

AT-RISK UNDER 65 7,300,000

60-64 1,800,000

55-59 2,400,000

50-54 2,800,000

PHASE 3 (AUTUMN)

REST OF ADULT POPULATION 21,000,000 

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On another day of coronavirus chaos in Britain: 

  • England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam shot down calls for No10 to adopt a three metre social distancing rule and masking masks compulsory outdoors;
  • Matt Hancock admitted the NHS is planning to discharge Covid patients into hotels to free up hospital beds, after it was revealed care homes may have to admit patients who haven’t had a negative test for the disease;
  • Shoppers and commuters travelling through London during rush hour were pictured not wearing face masks, hours after the Home Secretary backed a tougher police approach to lockdown rules; 
  • Locked-down Brits questioned if the crackdown has gone too far after a jogger was stopped by a marshal for ‘breathing heavily’, while a daughter was slapped with a £60 fine for visiting her dementia-suffering mother;
  • England’s outbreak could have started to slow down before the national lockdown started on January 4, data suggested as infection numbers appeared to peak in the worst-hit regions at the start of the year;
  • Gavin Williamson admitted some schools in England could remain closed beyond the middle of February, as the Education Secretary also refused to guarantee that nurseries will continue to be allowed to stay open.

Mr Keith-Roach told the Commons Science and Technology Committee: ‘We are scaling up very rapidly – and this will happen imminently – to releasing two million doses a week.

‘We’re absolutely on track to do that and therefore deliver tens of millions of doses in the first quarter of the year.

‘If we average two million a week through the course of the year, that gets us to the 100 million doses that we’re committed to the UK through the course of 2021.’

Later, he added: ‘We are scaling up to two million doses a week imminently and we’d certainly hope to be there on or before the middle of February.’

He said the middle of February was a ‘conservative position’ and said the firm had been asked by the UK Vaccines Taskforce ‘not to share in public forum in detail daily delivery schedules and locations for security reasons’.

Boris Johnson confirmed the Government was planning to roll out the vaccine 24/7 'as soon as we can' at Prime Minister's Questions today
Tom Keith-Roach, president of AstraZeneca UK, pledged to hit the bold target by mid-February but said he hoped it would reach the goal before then

Boris Johnson confirmed the Government was planning to roll out the vaccine 24/7 ‘as soon as we can’ at Prime Minister’s Questions today. Tom Keith-Roach (right), president of AstraZeneca UK, pledged to hit the bold target by mid-February but said he hoped it would reach the goal before then

GPs say they have been told to SLOW vaccine roll-out to over-70s because of a lack of supply 

GPs leading Britain’s great vaccination drive have been forced to pause inoculations to allow other parts of the country to catch up, it was claimed today.

Practices that have already vaccinated every patient over the age of 80 and are now looking to dish the jabs out to the over-70s have had their deliveries cancelled by NHS leaders, according to The Telegraph. 

Government sources claim ministers are deliberately trying to spread out limited supplies in case the immunisation programme is accused of being a postcode lottery.

Dr John Bedson, a GP in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent, claimed today that his practice had not yet been able to vaccinate a single patient, despite sugeries in more affluent areas of North Staffordshire already administering ‘thousands’ of doses. 

Matt Hancock hinted today that a lack of supply was behind the decision to delay jabs despite the vaccination scheme desperately needing to get up to speed to reach its goal of jabbing 13million Brits by mid-February.  

Quizzed over reports that GPs are having to pause vaccinations to let other practices catch up, the Health Secretary told BBC Radio’s 4 Today Programme: ‘The rate-limiting step on the rollout is the supply of the vaccine itself. 

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‘As you can imagine it’s very sensitive, but I can reassure you that we will scale to two million doses per week very quickly.’

Later, he said the firm could not commit to doses above 2million per week but it may be they could ‘increase that somewhat as we move into quarter two’. 

Mr Keith-Roach also told MPs the ‘vast majority’ of the fill-and-finish packing around the vaccines is done in the UK.

He said the manufacture of the vaccine depends on a complex biological process which cannot be carried out more quickly.

‘Drug substance manufacture is a 58 to 60-day process that you cannot speed up – that is a complex biological process of actually growing the adenovirus vector,’ he said.

Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of biopharmaceuticals research and development at AstraZeneca, added: ‘You have to grow cells and cells divide at a certain speed, and you can’t do any faster than the speed at which the cells divide.’

Mr Keith-Roach added: ‘From drug substance, you have to actually manufacture the drug product. That includes filling and finishing, packaging, batch release – that takes a further 28 days.  

‘If you look in total, you’re talking about a three to four-month process. Within that you have, as you’d imagine, extensive quality testing on every batch – actually there’s more than 60 quality tests that are performed.’

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi was accused by Labour MP Graham Stringer of being ‘phobic’ to the numbers and keeping data on vaccine supplies ‘secret’.

Mr Zahawi said ‘this idea that we are sitting on lots of stock is not true’, adding that deliveries of central stocks were unpredictable at the moment.

He told MPs the initial vaccination supply had been ‘lumpy’ but he now had ‘line of sight’ of deliveries to the end of February.

‘In any manufacturing process, especially one where you’re dealing with a biological compound, a novel vaccine is lumpy at the outset,’ he said.

‘There’s no doubt that it was, but getting better. It begins to stabilise and you get much clearer line of sight.

Lee Ullha receives an injection of the Covid-19 vaccine at the Depaul homeless centre in Oldham, Greater Manchester, today

Lee Ullha receives an injection of the Covid-19 vaccine at the Depaul homeless centre in Oldham, Greater Manchester, today

An Asda store in Birmingham will become the first in Britain to host a Covid vaccination centre. The supermarket is yet to be named. Pictured: An Asda in Birmingham

An Asda store in Birmingham will become the first in Britain to host a Covid vaccination centre. The supermarket is yet to be named. Pictured: An Asda in Birmingham

Minister have promised o dish out 2million jabs a week by the end of January through 2,700 centres dotted across the country. The map shows the sites that are currently up and running, including seven mass centres (green), more than 100 hospitals (blue), as well as GP practices and pharmacies (purple)

Minister have promised o dish out 2million jabs a week by the end of January through 2,700 centres dotted across the country. The map shows the sites that are currently up and running, including seven mass centres (green), more than 100 hospitals (blue), as well as GP practices and pharmacies (purple)

Boris Johnson says UK will dish out Covid jabs 24/7 ‘as soon as we can’ 

Boris Johnson has confirmed Britain will dish out Covid-19 vaccines 24 hours a day ‘as soon as we can’ amid mounting pressure to ramp up the immunisation scheme.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, the Prime Minister said: ‘I can tell Sir Kier that we’ll be going to 24/7 as soon as we can. And (the Health Secretary) Matt Hancock will be setting out more about that in due course. 

He added: ‘As he rightly says, at the moment the limit is on supply.’

Ministers were today preparing to rubber-stamp plans for trials of round-the-clock vaccinations, according to reports, after bowing to immense pressure to turbo-charge the roll out. A senior Government source said No10 was considering a ‘pilot where vaccinations are offered for longer hours’ to gauge whether there is enough demand to keep jab hubs open through the night.

But there are serious doubts over whether they can deliver the scheme amid mounting concerns over vaccine supply – with Mr Hancock hinting this morning this was behind the decision to delay jabs in parts of the country. 

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‘I now have line of sight of deliveries all the way through until end of February and getting more confidence about March as well.

‘We have millions of doses coming through in the weeks and then next month and the month after.’

He added that ‘day by day, what you’ll see is greater volumes going out’, saying there would be ‘day-by-day’ improvements in the notice given to vaccinators of when supplies will arrive.

And he denied reports that vaccines could not be supplied to the NHS on a Sunday, adding there was a 98.5 per cent accuracy to date in the timing of deliveries.

Earlier, Mr Pangalos said research had begun to examine the mixing of different vaccines to allow greater flexibility in the system. ‘(It’s) something that we’re starting to investigate already, both pre-clinical and clinically.’

He also called for people working in the vaccine process to be prioritised for jabs.

England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, helped the vaccine roll-out first hand on Sunday when he volunteered at a medical centre in Nottingham, giving jabs to elderly local centres.

Professor Van-Tam, a trained doctor, was pictured working in full scrubs and protective equipment at the Richard Herrod Centre in Nottingham on Sunday. 

When not advising the Government he works as a medicine lecturer at Nottingham University and is a flu and viruses expert and former hospital doctor.   

Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Clinical Commissioning Group posted pictures on social media of Professor Jonathan Van-Tam.

The tweets said that despite helping to lead the national pandemic response, Professor Van-Tam was supporting the vaccine roll-out as a volunteer in his spare time.

Professor Van-Tam, known affectionately as JVT, said: ‘Thank you to all the volunteers and staff for the professional and warm welcome. 

‘We are at the worst stage of the pandemic so far and the situation is extremely concerning but your contribution will make a positive difference’. 

A LIFE COULD BE SAVED ‘FOR EVERY 25 CARE HOME RESIDENTS VACCINATED’ 

One of the UK’s vaccine chiefs said today that a life could be saved for every 25 to 45 care home residents who get a Covid vaccine.

Illustrating the return on investment of vaccinating different groups against coronavirus, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s Professor Wei Shen Lim said targeting care home residents was the most efficient way to bring down deaths.

Their risk of dying if they catch the virus is so high, he said, that between 25 and 45 vaccinations would be enough to stop one death.

This is not based on all 45 of those people catching coronavirus, but represents their relative risk of dying compared to other members of society.

Targeting lower risk front-line workers, although they might have a high chance of catching the disease, would be less efficient, he said. Some MPs are calling for people such as teachers, shop staff and police officers to be bumped up the priority list.

Professor Wei Shen Lim said in the science and technology committee: ‘In terms of protecting people within a constrained vaccine supply, the estimates are that we have to vaccinate only about 250 people aged over 80 to save one life.

‘For care home residents, we only need to vaccinate somewhere between 25 to 45 care home residents to save one life.

‘If you were trying to vaccinate, for example, train operators, then you would have to vaccinate many thousand train operators to save a life.

‘It doesn’t mean that that’s not important, but it’s weighing up the values there. That’s a policy decision as to what value one wants to weigh up.’

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In the science and technology committee this morning, medical chiefs told MPs that the gap between first and second doses of coronavirus vaccines could be stretched beyond the 12-week target.

When the Pfizer Covid jab was approved it was on the condition that people would get a second dose three weeks after their first one, as was done in clinical trials.

But UK regulators claimed there was enough data to prove it could be stretched out to three months, allowing No10 to deliver first doses to twice as many people before bigger deliveries of the jabs arrive in spring. Pfizer hit back and said there was no proof the vaccine worked when the two doses were given so far apart.

Now, however, elderly people who have already had their first jabs could face even longer and potentially open-ended gaps between the two doses.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has given approval for the second jab to be given any time after 21 days after the first one, with no outer limit.

And Public Health England’s head of immunisation, Dr Mary Ramsey, today said: ‘It may well be that we can afford to be more relaxed.’ But regulators will only allow the gap to be stretched even further if data shows that protection from the first dose lasts longer than expected. 

Dr Ramsay said it was possible that the priority in the spring could be getting jabs to younger people instead of giving the elderly a second dose. 

The JCVI’s Dr Wei Shen Lim said the Pfizer vaccine appeared to be good enough after one dose that that could eventually become the norm, but it wasn’t yet the official advice. 

Speaking about second doses Dr Ramsay told the committee: ‘My understanding now is that people are being scheduled at the sort of 12-week mark…

‘The information they are being given now is that you will be vaccinated between three and 12 weeks after the first dose so it doesn’t promise them the vaccine at three to four weeks.’

She added: ‘The current advice from the JCVI is that they go back and do the second dose for the first group so I am expecting that to happen in parallel that we’ll be carrying on rolling out the next groups at the same time and that’s an operational consideration for NHS England…

‘The JCVI is saying at the moment that the second dose should be given no later than 12 weeks.

‘If we have additional data then it may be that the balance again is actually in favour of doing more first doses so it may be that the situation changes as the science changes. This is a very fast-moving field.’ 

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, Health News | Mail Online reports

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