News

HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 26 February 2021

Media Summary

The UK’s speedy COVID-19 vaccine rollout: surprise success or planned perfection?
The Conversation, Sarah Schiffling & Liz Breen, 25 February

In an opinion ediotrial, The Conversation reports that the UK is one of the world’s front runners when it comes to vaccine coverage. The article reports that in December it became the first country to start administering a fully trialled and tested COVID-19 vaccine to its citizens. Since then, more than 18 million people in the UK have received a first vaccine dose, with over 600,000 second doses also being administered.

One reason for the success in rolling out the jab, the article suggests, is that British negotiators demonstrated a strong understanding of the medicines supply chain. The UK contract with AstraZeneca, for example, contains a commitment by the pharma firm that the British supply chain “will be appropriate and sufficient” for the supply of the doses the country purchased. If its supply chain were to be insufficient at any point, AstraZeneca would need to cover any shortfall from elsewhere in its global network. The EU contract does not contain an equivalent clause.

However, clever procurement alone does not account for the success of the UK’s vaccine rollout. The Conversation praises the collaborative effort of different organisations and individuals, coming together and using their strengths and existing capabilities to make the rollout as quick and efficient as possible. The UK strategy has been paired with an excellent distribution network, reports the article. The centralised structure of the NHS has offered an ideal platform for planning and coordination; but a varied and localised system of delivery has ensured the rollout has been effective. The diverse network of vaccination sites has made distribution more challenging, with supplies needing to be split among the sites without any one location running out unexpectedly or doses going to waste. Effective planning and stock management have been critical, which, explains the article, is why experienced medicines distributors have been brought in to make sure that supplies can be delivered continually.

 

Parliamentary Coverage

Meeting of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee: 24 February 2021
Michael Gove MP, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, Written Statement, 25 February

Cabinet Minister Michael Gove has released a written statement, after the European Union and the United Kingdom held the first meeting of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee following the end of the transition period on 24 February.

The statement highlights that the parties welcomed the progress made on citizens’ rights in recent weeks in implementing the rights of UK nationals in the EU and EU citizens in the UK under the Withdrawal Agreement, and reiterated the importance of communication and support to the most vulnerable.

Further to the meeting of the Joint Committee co-chairs on 11 February 2021, the EU and the UK also took stock of the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland and of work to find pragmatic solutions. The parties acknowledged the importance of joint action to make the Protocol work for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland. In that spirit, the EU and UK reiterated their full commitment to the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in all its dimensions, and to the proper implementation of the Protocol. Building on the recent outreach by the Joint Committee co-chairs, there would be further joint engagement with business groups and other stakeholders in Northern Ireland. The UK and the EU underlined their shared commitment to giving effect to those solutions agreed through the Joint Committee on 17 December 2020, without delay. The UK noted that it would provide additional investment in digital solutions for traders in accordance with the Protocol.

Noting the need for ongoing engagement and the shared desire to act at pace, the UK and EU agreed that a further Joint Committee would be held to provide further steers and where appropriate approvals, and would liaise on timings.

You can find the statement here.

 

Full Coverage

The UK’s speedy COVID-19 vaccine rollout: surprise success or planned perfection?
The Conversation, Sarah Schiffling & Liz Breen, 25 February

The UK’s COVID-19 response has been criticised severely. Britain is among the countries with the highest number of recorded COVID-19 cases and deaths. But with its vaccination campaign, its fortunes seem to have turned.

The UK is one of the world’s front runners when it comes to vaccine coverage. On December 8 2020, it became the first country to start administering a fully trialled and tested COVID-19 vaccine to its citizens. Since then, more than 18 million people in the UK have received a first vaccine dose, with over 600,000 second doses also being administered.

The UK government has pledged that all adults will be offered a vaccine before the end of July. This would be a huge achievement less than eight months after vaccinations began. Initially, this deadline was late autumn, which demonstrates the success of Britain’s initiative to date. The speedier rollout of the vaccine raises hopes for a swifter end to restrictions. Unsurprisingly, rollout so far has been termed a “rare pandemic success”. Here’s how it’s been achieved.

Keeping up supply

The UK government’s end-of-July vaccination target looks achievable, and by maintaining an average speed of 2.9 million vaccinations per week – which is what has been achieved so far – the entire UK adult population could receive both doses by late September. Reaching and maintaining this pace requires consistent vaccine supplies, and the key to this lies in the supply chain.

Supply shortages have plagued vaccine rollouts around the world. A prominent example has been the dispute between the EU and AstraZeneca. The manufacturer drastically cut deliveries of its vaccine, citing production issues.

While the UK and the EU signed broadly similar contracts with AstraZeneca, British negotiators demonstrated a better understanding of the supply chain. The UK contract contains a commitment by AstraZeneca that the British supply chain “will be appropriate and sufficient” for the supply of the doses the country purchased. If its supply chain were to be insufficient at any point, AstraZeneca would need to cover any shortfall from elsewhere in its global network. The EU contract does not contain an equivalent clause.

Committing early to contracts with suppliers has been another positive in the UK’s vaccine procurement, as has the willingness to invest. The UK has spent £11.7 billion on purchasing, manufacturing and deploying COVID-19 vaccines as well as on vaccine research. Kate Bingham, the former chair of the UK COVID-19 vaccine task force, has highlighted that her purchasing strategy focused on which vaccines were being developed quickly rather than cost.

The UK now finds itself in the position of having secured access to seven vaccine candidates and potentially many more doses than it needs. It has already ordered enough doses of the vaccines currently authorised to cover its population. As additional vaccines are approved, its supplies will grow further still.

Manufacturing capacity has been the subject of long-term investment from the British government too. As a result, manufacturing infrastructure was already in place at the beginning of the pandemic and could be scaled up quickly, which resulted in three vaccines being made in the UK, giving ready access to supplies. Quickly kickstarting manufacturing also gave Britain the chance to iron out any production glitches early on; the EU has instead had to resolve these more recently, denting its supplies.

Long-term research investment has also helped. The UK, unsurprisingly, was at the front of the queue for the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford with AstraZeneca, and has ordered more of this one than others. Oxford scientists had already been researching a vaccine that could be used against a disease like COVID-19. Ready access to large stocks of a working vaccine is somewhat down to research investment that stretches back years.

Planning the distribution

But early investment and clever procurement alone do not account for the success of the UK’s vaccine rollout. They are paired with an excellent distribution network. The centralised structure of the NHS has offered an ideal platform for planning and coordination; but a varied and localised system of delivery has ensured the rollout has been effective.

In England alone there are more than 1,500 vaccination sites. These consist of GP surgeries and community pharmacies at the smaller end through to hospital hubs and mass vaccination centres established in sports centres, race courses and showgrounds. While the larger vaccination hubs offer speedy inoculations for many, the smaller community-based services ensure that access is broad.

This diverse network of vaccination sites does make distribution more challenging. Supplies need to be split among the sites without any one location running out unexpectedly or doses going to waste. Effective planning and stock management is critical, and for this reason, experienced medicines distributors have been brought in to make sure that supplies can continually be delivered.

Indeed, this is part of a wider effort to bundle together the strengths of different organisations and individuals and using their existing capabilities to make the rollout as quick as possible. For instance, alongside industry experts, military logistics planners and personnel have been drafted in to help with distribution.

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is an unprecedented logistical effort. The UK is currently handling this challenge better than many other countries, which could well learn from it. However, after the high burden of deaths, illness, repeated lockdowns and economic damage, the pressure on the UK to maintain the speed of its rollout is high. The country is still in lockdown, and hopes for an end to restrictions rest on its vaccination campaign’s success.

HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 26 February 2021

From Factory to Pharmacy

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