No 10 reportedly wanted union flag on Oxford coronavirus vaccine kits

Downing Street tried to get doses of the Oxford University coronavirus vaccine labelled with an image of the union jack, it has been reported.

No 10’s newly formed “Union unit”, which is tasked with combating calls for Scottish independence and other campaigns to break up the UK, had wanted injection kits to bear the flag, according to the Huffington Post.

The government’s vaccine taskforce was asked to ensure that manufacturers of the vaccine – developed alongside the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca – used the UK flag, according to the report.

Boris Johnson’s official spokesman denied there were plans to put a flag on the vaccines, but did not deny there had been an attempt to do so. “There are no plans for the union jack to be put on doses. It’s already the case that manufacturing has already begun for some of the leading vaccines, so they can be ready when they are approved. Manufacturers are well versed in the way to package products like this,” he said.

The government is under pressure to fight back against calls for independence in Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister and Scottish National party leader, has said she aims to seek a second independence referendum “in the earlier part” of the next Scottish parliament. The SNP is favourite to win the 2021 Holyrood elections, having held the balance of power in Edinburgh since 2007.

While Johnson’s Scottish secretary, Alister Jack, has said there should not be a second referendum for “25 to 40 years”, ministers are privately concerned about the rise in support on the issue since the pandemic began.

Support has also been growing steadily for a vote on Welsh independence, and there has been renewed debate on Irish unity post-Brexit, owing to the threat of a hard border.

The makers of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine have said they plan to conduct an additional global trial to assess the drug, after questions were raised over some of its original results.

Will everyone in the world have access to a Covid vaccine? – video explainer

The partners announced last week that the vaccine had a 70% efficacy overall. For most trial participants – who were given two full doses, spaced a month apart – the efficacy was 62%, but for 3,000 participants mistakenly given half a dose for their first jab, the efficacy was 90%. No participants, regardless of dosing, developed severe Covid or were admitted to hospital with the disease.

The robustness of results was questioned after it emerged that the group that received the low dose of the vaccine did not include any participants over the age of 55, meaning it is unclear whether the 90% efficacy holds for older adults, who are at higher risk from Covid.

Asked if the government had put any pressure on the Oxford team to speed up the announcement of the test results, the prime minister’s spokesman said: “No.”

He said the independent regulator would make the final decision about when each vaccine could be administered. “It is the role of the MHRA [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency] to assess the full details of those trials and we will only roll out the vaccine once it’s been judged safe and effective,” he said.


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