Coronavirus in numbers

Indian vaccine firm denies Hancock’s claim rollout being hampered by supply shortage

But Serum Institute of India insists there is ‘no question’ of any delays

An Indian firm has refuted claims from health secretary Matt Hancock that the UK’s vaccination programme slowdown has been triggered by a shortfall in scheduled Astrazeneca deliveries from the south asian nation.

Mr Hancock told the House of Commons that the shortfall in supplies from India’s Serum Institute - understood to involve 4m doses - meant that availability of vaccines in April will be “tighter” than this month, when the UK has enjoyed “bumper weeks” of mass vaccination. 

He added that the need to retest the stability of a further 1.7m doses had also hampered the rollout, which has outpaced efforts seen in nations across the globe since the first jab was administered in early December.

However sources inside the Institute have denied that there had been any hold-up.

A source with knowledge of the matter told The Independent “there was no specific timeframe” for the next order to be sent to the UK, so “there’s no question of it being delayed.”

Five million doses were sent from the Serum Institute to the UK earlier, the source confirmed, adding: “And the remaining will be sent soon”.

“India’s cases are going up. India’s vaccine requirement is also going up,” the source said, insisting that the company is waiting for more clarity on the front from the Indian government.

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Regional NHS leaders were told on Wednesday not to schedule any vaccinations for healthy under-40s during April because of “significant” expected pressure on supplies over a four-week period.

Mr Hancock insisted that there will be no cancellations of vaccine appointments due to the supply issues and no weeks in April in which no Britons receive their first jab.

Pressure on supplies will be heightened in April because of the need to administer around 12m second jabs to over-50s and members of other priority groups who have received first doses up to 12 weeks ago, the health secretary said.

Mr Hancock told the House of Commons that the shortfall in supplies from India’s Serum Institute meant that availability of vaccines in April will be “tighter” than this month, when the UK has enjoyed “bumper weeks” of mass vaccination. 

But he insisted that there will be no cancellations of vaccine appointments due to the supply issues and no weeks in April in which no Britons receive their first jab. And he said the UK remained on track to protect all over-50s by 15 April and all adults by the end of July as planned.

Pressure on supplies will be heightened in April because of the need to administer around 12m second jabs to over-50s and members of other priority groups who have received first doses up to 12 weeks ago, the health secretary said.

“Throughout the vaccination programme, the pace of rollout has always been determined by the availability of supply,” Mr Hancock told MPs. 

“The process of manufacturing vaccines is complicated, and subject to unpredictability. And because we get supplies out into the field so fast through our highly lean delivery system changes in future supply schedules impact on the weekly availability of vaccine. That has been true throughout.”

Mr Hancock said the UK was currently ”in the middle of some bumper weeks of supply” and was able to deliver over half a million vaccines both yesterday and today.

But he told MPs: “In the last week, we’ve had a batch of 1.7 million doses delayed because of the need to retest its stability. Events like this are to be expected  in a manufacturing endeavour of this complexity. And this shows the rigour of our safety checks.

“And we have a delay in a scheduled arrival from the Serum Institute of India. I want to put on the record my gratitude to the Serum Institute of India for the incredible work that they’re doing, producing vaccine, not just for us in the UK, but for the whole world. 

“Their technology, and their capability, which has been approved by the MHRA is remarkable, the Serum Institute of India are producing a billion doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine this year. It truly is a partnership that we can be proud of.”

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told the Commons that the public would be “worried, anxious and disappointed” by news of the slowdown in vaccinations next month.

Mr Ashworth told MPs: “Many key workers under the age of 50 are teachers and police officers who by the nature of their work are not at home and are exposed to risk and have been hoping that vaccination for them would be not far away.”

Earlier, SII claimed it had enough stock to cover India’s vaccination drive and send vaccines to other countries. In February, the institute’s chief executive Adar Poonawala told The Independent they had upwards of 55 million doses in cold storage.

The source confirmed that SII still has stocks and its production capacity has not gone down, despite a large quantity being sent out to serve orders from the Indian government and its broader diplomatic programme of vaccine maitri, or friendship.

The company, which hopes to soon be able to produce 100 million doses of Covid vaccine a month, is understood to be awaiting a nod from the Indian government to send out the next consignment to the UK.

India has faced a major spike in coronavirus cases since the middle of February, from around 10,000 daily infections then to more than 35,800 new cases on Thursday, the highest spike this year.

Its foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told parliament on Wednesday that “the house should be aware that the supply of vaccines abroad is based on the assessment of adequate availability at home”.

“This is continuously monitored and takes into account the requirements of our domestic vaccine programme as it unfolds in different phases,” he said.

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