UK turns down EU coronavirus vaccine scheme

·2-min read
Brussels
Brussels

The Government has turned down the opportunity to join a European Union coronavirus vaccine scheme after ministers expressed concern over “costly delays”, The Telegraph understands.

Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, is believed to have walked away from the plan after failing to secure “sufficient assurance” that the UK would receive the number of vaccines it needs on time. 

The European Commission is expected to be notified on Friday.

The UK has been for weeks holding talks with Brussels over the EU scheme, which involves using the bloc’s collective bargaining power to strike deals with international drugs companies. 

With trials underway across the world, there is expected to be fierce global competition to secure supplies when a successful vaccine is found. 

The decision not to participate in the scheme is likely to provoke a backlash among opposition MPs, who believe that the Government is reluctant to take part in EU projects after Brexit.

Boris Johnson has previously faced criticism in some quarters over the failure to join EU ventilator and PPE procurement schemes, which was initially blamed on a communications problem. 

However, Government sources on Thursday told The Telegraph that officials believe signing up to the scheme could delay the rollout of a successful vaccine in the UK by up to six months as negotiations on distribution took place.

They added that countries that opted in would also be subject to a so-called “volume ceiling” or cap on the number of doses allocated to each member state. 

Although the EU says that “collective purchasing power” will enable participants to drive down costs, officials argue the benefits are “limited” as most pharmaceutical companies are offering the UK similar prices to other countries.

Due to the UK no longer being an EU member state, it would also have no say in which companies are involved in negotiations, pricing or the timetable for delivering the vaccine, according to insiders.

“The terms just weren’t right for us. The EU scheme wouldn’t allow the UK to do anything more than it currently is,” one source said. 

Another insisted that the decision would “not damage the efforts” being undertaken by the Government’s Vaccines Task Force, which is coordinating efforts to research and produce a safe vaccine. 

The UK has already secured a bilateral deal with Oxford University and the pharma giant AstraZeneca, as well as Imperial College London to accelerate trials of a vaccine. 

The Oxford partnership, which is if successful will mean the UK becoming the first recipient of the vaccine, began phase two of human trials in May. 

The Government has also invested up to £93 million in a new Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre, which is currently under construction in Oxford. 

When it opens next year, ministers say it will be able to produce enough vaccine doses for the entire UK population in as little six months.

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