AstraZeneca will “imminently” scale up production to release 2 million doses of its vaccine each week in the UK, the firm’s chief executive has said.
Tom Keith-Roach, the president of AstraZeneca UK, said the company may be able to go above that figure from April onwards.
He said 1.1 million doses of the company’s Covid-19 jab, which was developed with Oxford University, have been released to the UK so far, but the aim was to reach 2 million doses per week on or before the middle of February.
He told the Commons Science and Technology Committee: "We are scaling up very rapidly – and this will happen imminently – to releasing 2 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 2 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 2 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 details of daily delivery schedules and locations for security reasons.
"As you can imagine it's very sensitive, but I can reassure you that we will scale to 2 million doses per week very quickly."
Later, he said the firm could not commit to doses above 2 million per week but might be able to "increase that somewhat as we move into quarter two".
Mr Keith-Roach also told MPs 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."
Additional reporting by Press Association
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