News

HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 28 January 2021

Media Summary

COVID-19: EU eyes UK vaccine supply as AstraZeneca row deepens
Sky News, Tim Baker, 28 January

Sky News reports that following a meeting between senior EU and AstraZeneca figures on Wednesday, politicians are demanding a plan from the drug manufacturer on how it will provide the promised number of Coronavirus vaccine doses.

European Commissioner for Health Stella Kyriakides said after the meeting that the bloc “regret the continued lack of clarity on the delivery schedule” of the jabs, and “request a clear plan from AstraZeneca for the fast delivery of the quantity of vaccines that we reserved for Q1”.

AstraZeneca has reported production issues at factories on the continent and problems with the supply chain, and says it is providing as many doses as possible. The EU has said this is a breach of contract, and that the company should send vials from other production facilities – like those in the UK – to match previously made commitments.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove told LBC news: “I think we need to make sure that the vaccine supply that has been bought and paid for, procured for those in the UK, is delivered. But of course, we’re always going to work with our friends and neighbours, we have to make sure that we can do everything we can to help them.”

This story was also reported in BBC NewsFinancial Times, and Politico.

 

Concern over ‘worrying’ disparities in COVID vaccine coverage in England
The Guardian, Ian Sample, 27 January

The Guardian reports that the failure to take a more sophisticated approach to the COVID vaccination programme is leaving some of the most deprived and at-risk individuals unprotected, the Head of the British Medical Association (BMA) has warned.

The UK government is aiming to offer everyone in the top four priority groups a first dose by 15 February, as set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). But BMA Council Chair Chaand Nagpaul said no account had been taken of accompanying JCVI advice that states the programme should pay “due attention to mitigating health inequalities, such as might occur in relation to access to healthcare and ethnicity”.

Office for National Statistics data from the first wave showed people living in the poorest areas of England and Wales were twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as those in less deprived areas. And according to Public Health England (PHE), people from ethnic minorities were up to twice as likely to die from COVID as white Britons.

Nagpaul said: “We need to be much more sophisticated in making sure the vaccine rollout reaches the people who are at highest risk, beyond the simplistic tiers [priority groups].

This story was also reported in BBC News.

 

Parliamentary Coverage

Large-scale coronavirus vaccine manufacturing begins in Scotland
Government Press Release, 28 January

Speciality vaccine company Valneva has started commercial manufacturing of its promising COVID-19 vaccine candidate in Livingston, West Lothian, Scotland.

This follows a multi-million-pound joint investment in the facility by the UK government last year as part of an agreement in principle to secure early access to Valneva’s vaccine by the end of 2021. 60 million doses have already been purchased for the UK, with an option to acquire a further 130 million if the vaccine is proven to be safe, effective and suitable.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Thanks to the UK Vaccine Taskforce, we have ordered up to 60 million jabs of Valneva’s promising vaccine if it proves to be safe, effective and suitable in its clinical trials this year. By starting manufacturing, we will have a running start at rolling these out as quickly as possible to protect the British public if it receives regulatory approval.”

You can read the full press release here.

 

“1000 little ships” PDA calls for community pharmacists to administer second doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccine
The Pharmacists’ Defence Association, 27 January

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) has urged the NHS to include the national community pharmacy network in the roll-out of the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The PDA notes that in two months’ time, a large and ever-increasing cohort of the population will be due to receive its second vaccination. It claims that unless pharmacies are allowed to contribute to the effort, logistical challenges will occur.

The PDA recognised that while individual pharmacies would never be able to deliver the high-volume vaccination operations seen in the large regional centres or the primary care hubs, they have the capacity to deliver smaller numbers that add up to a significant amount.

With the potential of vaccinations across more than 13,500 locations in the UK, the network would be able to deliver more than 2 million vaccinations each week even if providing an average of only 25 vaccinations per day, per pharmacy.

The full statement can be found here.

 

Oral evidence session – Future UK-EU relations: energy, environment and health
EU Environment Sub-Committee, 27 January

During a session of the EU Environment Sub-Committee on “Future UK-EU relations: Energy, Environment and Health,” the Committee heard from:

  • Fiona Loud, Policy Director, Kidney Care UK;
  • Dr Richard Torbett, Chief Executive, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry;
  • Emlyn Samuel, Director of Policy, Cancer Research UK; and
  • Kate Ling, Senior European Policy Manager, NHS Confederation

On the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, Ms Ling said she was relieved and pleased that the uncertainty was to a large extent removed. She was delighted with the arrangements for reciprocal health care, and the continuation of participation in EU funded research programmes. However, she was disappointed in the lack of mutual recognition of the testing and authorisation of medicines and medicinal products, the temporary solution to the flow of data adequacy and the ending of free movement.

Ms Loud added that an agreement on reciprocal health care was important, but there was uncertainty around the implementation of the full deal in terms of new regulatory systems for medicine, and the patients in Northern Ireland who needed to be considered as rules applied differently.

Dr Torbett highlighted that the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry had supplied 12,000 types of medicines and vaccines to the NHS and asked whether the deal will allow this to continue. He echoed the relief the deal provided and said the tariff-free flow of trade was important for medicines and active pharmaceutical ingredients.

On the trade of medicine and medical products, Dr Torbett said that this was an important part of the agreement. He reminded the Committee that the mutual recognition of good manufacturing practice was agreed to, adding that inspections would be undertaken to ensure this would be mutually recognised on both sides. Moreover, he saw a commitment to regulatory cooperation.

On Northern Ireland, Dr Torbett said that it was the most complicated area, and that a pragmatic approach was reached for the next 12 months in a phased way. He added that this period needed to be used to good effect by companies to reengineer their supply chains so they could comply. However, clarity was needed as soon as possible on these regulatory rules.

You can watch the session here.

 

Full Coverage

COVID-19: EU eyes UK vaccine supply as AstraZeneca row deepens
Sky News, Tim Baker, 28 January

The discord between the EU and drug manufacturer AstraZeneca remains despite a meeting between senior figures on Wednesday, with politicians demanding a plan from the company on how it will provide the promised number of coronavirus vaccine doses.

European Commissioner for Health Stella Kyriakides said after the meeting that the bloc “regret the continued lack of clarity on the delivery schedule” of the jabs and “request a clear plan from AstraZeneca for the fast delivery of the quantity of vaccines that we reserved for Q1”.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for AstraZeneca said they had discussed the “complexities of scaling up production” of the vaccine, and will “continue our efforts to bring this vaccine to millions of Europeans at no profit during the pandemic”.

Tensions have grown in recent days after the pharmaceutical giant said it would not be able to provide the previously announced number of inoculations in Europe.

AstraZeneca say this is due to production issues at factories on the continent and problems with the supply chain, and they are providing as many doses as possible.

The EU has said this is a breach of contract, and that the company should send vials from other production facilities – like those in the UK – to match previously made commitments.

On Wednesday, the EU Commission claimed the contract between the bloc and AstraZeneca committed it to providing vaccines from two factories in the UK, adding the company had not given sufficient explanations on why the doses could not be shipped from fully working plants.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove told LBC news: “I think we need to make sure that the vaccine supply that has been bought and paid for, procured for those in the UK, is delivered.

“But of course, we’re always going to work with our friends and neighbours, we have to make sure that we can do everything we can to help them.

“But our priority has to be making sure that the people in our country who are vulnerable and who we have targeted for vaccination, receive those jobs in those arms.”

While the finger pointing between the groups continued, Prime Minister Boris Johnson avoided being drawn on any potential impact of the dispute on UK vaccine supplies during a Downing Street news conference.

Mr Johnson said he was “very confident in our contracts” about the vaccine, which was developed in the UK at Oxford University.

AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said the supply chain in Europe still has “teething issues” – something which had been ironed out in the UK where the contracts were agreed three months earlier.

But Ms Kyriakides said: “We reject the logic of first come first served. That may work at the neighbourhood butchers but not in contracts.”

When the contract with the EU was signed, the stated number of doses to be provided by AstraZeneca was 300 million.

By the end of March this year, the pharmaceutical supplier was due to handover 80m jabs, but this was reduced to 31m last week.

The EU said this was a breach of the contract, while AstraZeneca said the agreement was only for a “best effort” as the drug was in development.

Mr Soriot told German newspaper Die Welt: “The reason why we said [it’s a best effort] is because Europe at the time wanted to be supplied more or less at the same time as the UK, even though the contract was signed three months later.”

 

Concern over ‘worrying’ disparities in COVID vaccine coverage in England
The Guardian, Ian Sample, 27 January

Doctors have raised concerns about “worrying” disparities in vaccine coverage in England amid signs black people and those in more deprived areas were less likely to receive the vaccine than others in the first weeks of rollout.

Researchers monitored the vaccination status of more than 1 million people aged 80 and over from the start of the vaccination programme on 8 December and found 41.1% had received at least one shot by 13 January. None of the patients in the study were living in care homes.

But the rapid assessment of the deployment revealed vaccine coverage was twice as high among white people than black people in the first five weeks, with 42.5% of white people receiving the jab compared with 20.5% of black people in the group. The vaccination status of south Asian people was also a concern at 29.5%, doctors said.

“These are preliminary findings but they do suggest worrying patterns, and they are particularly worrying because the groups that are getting lower coverage are those most at risk of bad outcomes,” said Liam Smeeth, a professor of clinical epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). “The rollout of the vaccine is a work in progress, but if these patterns are seen once the programme is much more mature they would be very worrying indeed.”

The analysis by researchers at the University of Oxford’s DataLab and LSHTM used a platform called OpenSAFELY, which allows secure studies to be done on electronic NHS health records. It found further disparities in vaccine uptake at least in the early stages of distribution. Vaccination rates in the most well-off areas were 44.7% in the first five weeks, compared with 37.9% in the most deprived areas, with lower rates among people with severe mental illness (30.3%), dementia (30.9%) and learning disabilities (28.1%).

Writing in the study, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, the researchers describe how many different factors can affect vaccine coverage and that rates could change rapidly as the programme continues.

Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at LSHTM, said there were greater disparities in the first weeks of the programme when only Pfizer shots were available. Many GP surgeries could not provide the Pfizer vaccine because it requires ultra-cold storage, meaning it was given mostly from hospitals. “Access was at first a key factor,” he said. “That is changing very rapidly, and we are seeing possibly less variation as the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine does not have the cold chain requirements.”

Another factor may be a greater reluctance to get vaccinated, with research in January suggesting high rates of vaccine hesitancy, of more than 70% among black people, nearly three times higher than among white people.

“We have to make sure we’re taking steps to ensure poorer areas are getting good vaccine rollout and that we’re aware of vaccine hesitancy,” said Smeeth. “There is going to be a need for information, reassurance and encouragement in those groups and we need to make sure we’re reaching people with illnesses, those who are housebound, and those with learning disabilities. The people who perhaps have most to gain from vaccination will often be the hardest to reach for a range of reasons, so extra efforts are going to need to be made.”

Evans said it was vital people did not let their guard down after receiving the vaccine. “I am worried that a few days after getting a jab, people will indulge in more risky behaviours. This may get worse as those younger than 80 get vaccinated. Even a month after vaccination, there is no guarantee of protection for the individual and those around them.

“No vaccine is 100% protective, so doing all we can to avoid transmitting the virus is so important. This will need to continue until we know that there is very little virus around and that will take months.”

HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 28 January 2021

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