LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University will come from Europe rather than a domestic supply chain, the country’s Vaccine Taskforce said.
The “vast, vast, vast majority” – over 80% – of the 100 million doses AstraZeneca will produce for the United Kingdom will be made there, Ian McCubbin, manufacturing lead for the Vaccine Taskforce, said, but this year’s first batches will not.
“The initial supply and it’s a little bit of a quirk of the programme actually comes from the Netherlands and Germany,” he told reporters.
“But once that’s supplied, which we expect will be all by the end of this year, then the remainder of the supply will be a UK supply chain.”
The vaccine is manufactured by two British firms – Oxford BioMedica and Cobra Biologics – with another company, Wockhardt, providing fill and finish capability in what McCubbin said was “a completely integrated UK supply chain”.
McCubbin said he expected the European vaccines to be delivered this year, which could help to minimise any disruption from Brexit.
Military aircraft have been put on standby to help to deliver vaccines should there be chaos at the ports if Britain fails to agree a trade deal with the European Union before the end of the year.
Britain is hopeful that regulatory approval for AstraZeneca/Oxford’s immunisation could come in the next two weeks, its health minister said on Tuesday as Pfizer/BioNTech’s rival vaccine candidate was rolled out.
Although questions remain around the final data on AstraZeneca’s candidate, which has between 62% and 90% efficacy depending on the dosing regime used compared to 95% efficacy for Pfizer, it is easier to store and distribute than Pfizer’s.
Kate Bingham, chair of the taskforce, said that Britain would next year start trials using combinations of different kinds of vaccine for the initial and booster vaccinations, in the hope that a “mix-and-match” approach might maximise the immune response.
(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Barbara Lewis)