Downing Street ‘confident’ of vaccine supply as Scotland to scale back rollout

PA Reporters
·5-min read

Downing Street said it has confidence over vaccine supply and hitting its priority groups target after the Scottish Government said it would be scaling back its programme as jab supplies to the UK dip.

Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said there will be a drop in vaccine supply across all four nations of the UK, caused by work being carried out by Pfizer – the manufacturer of one of the approved coronavirus vaccines.

She said Scotland should hit its target of vaccinating 400,000 adults a week ahead of schedule this week, but the programme will then “need to scale back a bit”.

A spokesperson for Pfizer said it had made modifications to production facilities in Belgium to scale up manufacturing capacity in Europe, with “overall projected supply” of vaccines to the UK remaining the same for January to March.

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Meanwhile, a planned reduction in coronavirus vaccine supply is expected in Wales in the next few weeks, First Minister Mark Drakeford said.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said on Thursday: “We’re confident of our vaccine supply and we’re confident that we can hit our target of vaccinating all those top four groups by Monday.

“And from then on, continuing down the prioritisation list and continuing to provide large numbers of vaccines every day to those who are further down that phase one list.

“We are confident of supplies but we haven’t commented on details of delivery schedules or movements of the vaccines.”

It is understood some mass vaccination centres in Wales are expected to reduce their operating hours in response to a planned dip in supply.

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who represents the Rhondda constituency, said two mass vaccination centres in Wales were closing amid a short-term reduction in vaccine supply.

Speaking to the PA news agency, he claimed the target of vaccinating the first four priority groups will be reached, but then “there will be a hiatus of two or three weeks when the supply of vaccine both Pfizer and Astra Zeneca will be dramatically reduced”.

He claimed his local Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board will drop from having 24,000 doses a week of the Astra Zeneca jab to 8,000 doses from Monday.

Mr Bryant said the mass vaccination centre at Merthyr Tydfil closed on Wednesday, while the centre at Ystrad was due to close at “close of play” on Friday.

He said there was expected to be an “uplift” in vaccine supply in Wales from March 1.

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Mr Drakeford told a Welsh Parliament committee on Thursday that one of the “challenges” of the Covid-19 vaccination programme in Wales was supply.

He said: “We know that we are going to get less vaccine over the next few weeks than we have over the past few weeks but that was planned for and known for and is accommodated in our plans, which remain to complete the vaccination of those next five priority groups by the spring.”

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman from Northern Ireland’s Department of Health said: “We are not aware of any Pfizer supply issues and are continuing to work through the priority groups as planned.”

A UK Government spokeswoman later said: “There is currently no issue with vaccine manufacture or supply and we are still confident that the steady, regular supply of doses will continue to support the vaccine rollout right across the UK in the weeks ahead.

“As Pfizer have said, the overall projected supply for the UK remains unchanged for January to March 2021.”

It was revealed last month that the UK was set to face short-term delays in delivery of the Pfizer jab as the pharmaceutical company upscaled production capacity at its plant in Puurs, Belgium.

A Pfizer spokesman said that following the completed work it was fulfilling deliveries to the European Union “in line with the original agreed schedule” and was working towards increasing deliveries beginning the week of February 15.

They added: “In the UK, we are continuing to liaise closely with the Government to deliver the 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that we have committed to supply before the end of the year and can confirm that overall projected supply remains the same for quarter one (January to March).”

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Tuesday that in the “second part of February”, it is expected vaccine supplies will “slightly dip for a period”.

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Ms Freeman told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Thursday: “This is about the supply into the UK, it is not about distribution around the UK. So it will affect all four nations of the UK.

“That will reduce our expected supply next week and the week after by about somewhere between 120,000 and 190,000 doses a week overall over the two vaccines.

“And what that means then is we need to scale back on the pace we have reached this week – we will reach over 400,000 doses this week, which is a couple of weeks earlier than we said we would. But we will need to scale back a bit.

“We are working that through and then of course supplies start coming in again.”

She stressed the Scottish Government is “still confident” it will meet targets set for vaccinating all those aged over 70 by Monday, as well as the goal of vaccinating those aged 65 and above by early March.

Ms Freeman later spoke to MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Covid-19 Committee, where she provided more details on the expected drop in supply.

She said: “To manage this reduced supply, from next week, we will need to reduce the numbers of vaccinations to between 150,000 and 200,000 until supply increases, which we hope will be very soon.”

Caroline Lamb, chief executive of NHS Scotland, also told the committee that a further “dip” is expected towards the end of March.