AstraZeneca has fallen far short of its target to deliver 30m Covid-19 vaccine doses to the UK by the end of September and will be able to supply only 4 per cent of what it promised by the end of the year, according to the head of the government’s vaccine taskforce.
The admission by Kate Bingham on Wednesday came as she defended herself against claims that she had shared official and market-sensitive information about the UK government’s vaccine programme with a group of venture capitalists in the US last month.
The government announced on May 17 that AstraZeneca would aim to make 30m doses of its Covid-19 vaccine available for the UK by the end of September, as part of an agreement to deliver a total of 100m, as it sought to convey to the public that it was anticipating the need for a mass vaccination programme.
“The projections that were made in good faith at the time were assuming that absolutely everything would work and there would be no hiccups at all,” Ms Bingham told the Commons health and social care committee.
She said the UK could expect to receive about 4m of the 100m vaccine doses it had ordered from Oxford university and AstraZeneca by the end of the year.
But she added that she was confident that all of the most vulnerable people in need of vaccination — equating to roughly 30m in the UK — would receive one by the start of summer 2021.
Referring to reports that she had shared classified information with prospective investors, Ms Bingham said there was “nothing commercially sensitive, nothing confidential” in the information she presented at an October 21 webinar to venture capitalists entitled Inside the Race to Develop a Covid-19 Vaccine.
The presentation, which was first reported by the Sunday Times, outlined several vaccine and drug candidates that were on the government’s radar for procurement, with different products colour-coded according to “priority”.
Some of the material presented was also marked as “official sensitive”, leading to questions over whether Ms Bingham had enabled her audience to make investment decisions based on information that was not yet public.
Ms Bingham said that her presentation slides should not have contained footers suggesting the information was sensitive. “Those footers should not have been there,” she added. “What I described in that presentation is ‘this is the overall landscape, and these are the six vaccines that we have selected but of course we are also monitoring other vaccines that are relevant to the UK’.”
The government put out a statement on Sunday affirming that Ms Bingham’s presence at the event and the content of her presentation had been approved in advance by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
“Kate Bingham focused on publicly available information and said little that expert delegates at the conference could not deduce themselves,” it said.
In her testimony to the select committee, Ms Bingham downplayed fears that there would be insufficient quantities of vaccine to inoculate those who needed it, saying that it would take some time after clinical trial results were announced for regulators to approve any product.
Doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be supplemented by up to 10m doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine this year, as well as many more doses of the Janssen and Novavax vaccines in the first half of 2021, she said.
Ms Bingham added: “We’re going to have more vaccine than we’re able to deploy is my expectation.”
AstraZeneca said it was making progress in readying its supply chain so it could begin supplying doses as soon as the vaccine is approved.
It added that while many of its global sites had begun commercial manufacturing, it had to carefully consider how much was progressed to the “final stages of the process” to ensure “maximum shelf life”.
“We are confident that, upon approval, we can begin supplying hundreds of millions of doses on a rolling basis,” it added.
Additional reporting by Donato Paolo Mancini
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