Britain's jab shortage in April WON'T hamper drive, says Prof Lockdown

Ministers scramble to defuse standoff with India by insisting it ISN’T blocking shipment of 5million doses – as ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson calls jab shortage ‘slightly disappointing’ but says it WON’T have an ‘enormous effect’

  • Matt Hancock yesterday admitted there is a delayed shipment of 5million AstraZeneca jabs from India 
  • Another 1.7million doses have been delayed because of the need to re-test a large batch already in the UK 
  • SAGE epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson says the delay will not have an ‘enormous effect’

Ministers were today scrambling to defuse the standoff with India over 5million missing doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine, with No10 holding secret talks with New Delhi to get the roll-out back on track.

Matt Hancock yesterday admitted a delayed shipment from the Serum Institute of India was a key factor in shortages that will slow the campaign down next month, meaning millions of over-40s will have to wait until May to get their first dose.

But in front of the entire nation last night, Boris Johnson – who is due to travel to India in the coming months to secure a lucrative post-Brexit trade deal – claimed Narenda Modi’s government had ‘not stopped any exports’.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden today waded into the confusion and repeated the claims of the Prime Minister, saying India was not ‘withholding vaccines’ and that the SII had ‘some supply issues’.

Asked if Mr Modi’s administration was blocking exports, Mr Dowden told LBC: ‘No. India is not withholding vaccines, and I pay tribute to the work of the Serum Institute. They have had some supply issues with 5million doses.’

But the boss of the SII yesterday said no further doses would be sent to Britain until the Indian Government gave the go ahead. He also said there was no shortage and claimed it had never made a deal to supply the full 10million doses within any given time frame.

Whitehall sources said there was a ‘constructive dialogue under way to work through issues’ with counterparts in New Delhi.

But the roll-out isn’t just being hampered by supply issues from India – which ministers seemingly hoped would allow for the roll-out to carry on while dishing out millions of second doses. Another 1.7million doses have been delayed because of the need to re-test a large batch already in the UK.

Despite concerns that the roll-out could be held up in the face of shortages with Tory MPs accusing No10 of ‘over-promising’, Government insiders haven’t ruled out moving onto people in their forties in the coming weeks.

It comes as one of the Government’s top scientific advisers insisted today that Britain’s vaccine in shortage in April won’t hamper the UK’s inoculation drive.

‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson, an Imperial College London epidemiologist whose grim modelling spooked ministers into the first blanket shutdown last March, dismissed fears that the hold-up could threaten plans to ease lockdown.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the delay was ‘slightly disappointing’ but insisted it shouldn’t have an ‘enormous effect’. And he added that No10 still has ‘enough’ supply to continue with the programme – which has already vaccinated almost 26million Britons.

Another Imperial scientist today said it was ‘unrealistic to imagine the first dose roll-out will be as fast’. Professor Robin Shattock, who is involved in vaccine research, said the delay was ‘manageable’, however.

It comes as experts today claimed Europe’s rush to ban the AstraZeneca vaccine over sporadic reports of blood clots may have cost thousands of lives, with the continent staring down the barrel of a third wave.

EU regulators yesterday gave their definitive verdict that the jab is safe and effective, after more than a dozen countries suspended its use. Germany, France and Italy have already U-turned and said they will resume.

The Prime Minister also attempted to allay fears over the vaccine yesterday, after the UK’s drug regulator also insisted the AstraZeneca jab was safe. Mr Johnson will receive his first dose of the vaccine later today.

The UK deal with Serum in India was announced on March 2 but Mr Poonawalla had warned ten days earlier that supplies were not running smoothly. Pictured: A map of vaccine manufacturing sites across Europe and India


‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson (left), an Imperial College London epidemiologist whose grim modelling spooked ministers into the first blanket shutdown last March, dismissed fears that the hold-up could threaten plans to ease lockdown. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden (right) said India was not ‘withholding vaccines’ and that the Serum Institute of India had ‘some supply issues

On another day of coronavirus vaccine chaos:

  • Europe’s rush to ban the AstraZeneca vaccine over sporadic reports of blood clots may have cost ‘thousands’ of lives, experts have said, as EU regulators gave their definitive verdict that the jab is safe and effective;
  • Israel reports that coronavirus deaths and cases are continuing to fall even after restrictions were eased as the country unlocks following its world-leading vaccination drive;
  • More than half of Briton’s workers returned to the office last week as the country gets set to reopen after lockdown;
  • Boris Johnson revealed he will get the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine today as he attempted to calm fears about the jab’s link to a rare type of blood clot in the brain; 
  • The number of Brits getting coronavirus symptoms each day has dropped again and fallen by 18 per cent on last week’s figures.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Professor Ferguson described the delay as ‘slightly disappointing’, but added: ‘I don’t think the delay will have an enormous effect. 

‘We’ll still have enough vaccine to largely continue with the programme.’

He said of bigger concern was the South African variant of Covid-19, adding: ‘Overall, I’m optimistic with this one caveat that we do need to keep these variants of concern at bay.

‘Thousands of lives’ needlessly lost to EU’s petty politics: Experts condemn deaths caused by AstraZeneca jab ban 

Europe’s rush to ban the AstraZeneca vaccine over sporadic reports of blood clots may have cost ‘thousands’ of lives, experts have said, as EU regulators gave their definitive verdict that the jab is safe and effective.

A series of countries including Germany, France and Italy have already U-turned and said they will resume AstraZeneca shots after EU safety experts said there was no increased risk of blood clots. 

But Peter Openshaw, a professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said the temporary stoppage in more than a dozen EU countries was likely to ‘translate into many, many lives lost due to Covid’. 

‘Because of this delay, and because of the uncertainty now of the vaccine in some people’s minds…I think it will probably run to thousands of lives that have been lost,’ he told Times Radio.  

Italy has already had to scrap 200,000 injections because of the AstraZeneca delay, while a survey published this week found that 49 per cent of Italians had their confidence in vaccines shaken by the furore. 

German immunologist Carsten Watzl warned of more deaths after tens of thousands of appointments were missed – urging people to take AstraZeneca’s jab rather than wait for the Pfizer/BioNTech one co-developed in Germany.  

And the delays will continue in Norway, Denmark and Sweden where authorities have said they will continue their own investigations despite the EU, WHO, UK and AstraZeneca’s findings that the jab is safe. 

Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia and Bulgaria have all said they will resume vaccinations, as a third wave of infections gathers momentum on much of the continent. 

France announced new lockdown measures for Paris last night while the Czech Republic has extended its own shutdown until Easter as vaccines come too slowly to keep the EU’s 447million people safe. 

‘Until we can update the vaccine, rolled out the vaccine and really hopefully the whole adult population which will be this summer, at that point we’ll be in a much safer position.’

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the road map out of lockdown was not affected by supply issues, but added there was still not a ‘full picture’ of data on schools returning.

‘The road map is not affected, so at the moment, we remain on course for the next easing on (March) 29,’ he told LBC.

‘It is worth bearing in mind though, we still need to fully analyse the effect of schools returning. We don’t see any problems at the moment but we won’t get a full picture for a while.

‘If there is concerns around that, obviously we would have to review the dates.’

He said that India was not ‘withholding vaccines’ from the UK following issues with supply.

Asked if India’s government was withholding vaccine exports, he said: ‘No, India is not withholding vaccines, and I pay tribute to the work of the Serum Institute.

‘They have had some supply issues with five million doses, as the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary outlined yesterday.

‘But we always knew that there would be ups and downs and that is part of our planning assumptions, that’s why we have been relatively cautious, for example with the road map for getting out of lockdown.’

But another professor leading Covid-19 vaccine research at Imperial College London said the supply difficulties are ‘manageable’, but that the rollout of second doses will cause further delays.

Robin Shattock told Sky News that current supply difficulties will have an impact over the next ‘few weeks’.

He went on to say: ‘What’s going to have much more of an impact on rollout is that now people are due their second dose… everybody who’s had their single dose will require their second dose.

‘It’s unrealistic to imagine the first dose rollout will be as fast because we’ll have to catch up with the second doses.’

Prof Shattock added: ‘There are always going to be delays and bumps in the road and the reality is we are moving faster than most countries in the world and we’re using vaccines as soon as it’s coming off the production line.

‘So there is a vulnerability there but that is the reality we’re working in, and if there’s a hold up at any point, there will be some delay, but it is manageable.’

Mr Hancock insisted the shortfall would not hit the Government’s target to vaccinate all adults by the end of July – and would also not delay the lifting of the lockdown.

But Downing Street did not deny a suggestion from the head of the Serum Institute of India (SII) that the Indian government was temporarily blocking exports of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.

Its chief executive Adar Poonawalla said no further doses would be sent to Britain until the Indian government gave the go-ahead.

‘There is no vaccine shortage,’ he added. ‘There was never a commitment to supplying doses to the UK in any stipulated time. We just said we will offer our help.

‘India has allowed five million doses to go to the UK. The balance will be decided to be given to the UK at an appropriate time by the Indian government, while balancing India and all its needs.’

The countries in green have already reinstated the AstraZeneca vaccine while those in red have yet to make an announcement or say that they will not immediately restart the jabs. Those in orange banned a particular batch of doses, while the countries in grey – including the UK – remained unmoved by the blood clot fears all along   

The Serum Institute’s chief executive Adar Poonawalla (right) said no further doses would be sent to Britain until the Indian government gave the go-ahead 

As many as 25.7million people in England have been vaccinated against the virus as the jabs roll-out steams ahead. Almost 470,000 first doses were dished out today, alongside more than 100,000 second doses

Asked when the UK would get its remaining doses, he added: ‘It is solely dependent on India and it has nothing to do with the SII. It is to do with the Indian government allowing more doses to the UK.’

The UK deal with Serum was announced on March 2 but Mr Poonawalla had warned ten days earlier that supplies were not running smoothly.

On February 21, he wrote on Twitter: ‘Dear countries & governments, as you await COVISHIELD supplies [the Indian name for the Oxford/AZ jab], I humbly request you to please be patient.

‘Serum has been directed to prioritise the huge needs of India and along with that balance the needs of the rest of the world. We are trying our best.’

Yesterday, Mr Hancock heaped praise on the SII, which has already delivered five million doses to the UK, saying he wanted to ‘put on record my gratitude to the Serum Institute of India for the incredible work that they’re doing producing vaccines not just for us in the UK, but for the whole world’.

Covid cases also fell seven per cent in a week. There were a further 6,303 cases identified today. For comparison, 6,753 were registered at the same time last week

Department of Health data showed the number of Covid deaths recorded has halved in a week, as the second wave of the pandemic remained in retreat. There were 95 recorded today compared to 181 last Thursday

More proof jabs work: Israel reports deaths and cases continuing to fall 

Israel reports that coronavirus deaths and cases are continuing to fall even after restrictions were eased as the country unlocks following its world-leading vaccination drive.

Around 60% of Israel’s adult population has had their first Covid jab and the country’s R rate is now at 0.68, below the 0.8 threshold which signifies the pandemic is in decline.

Health minister Yuli Edelstein hailed the news on Thursday as the nation prepared for the easing of more restrictions on Friday. 

He said: ‘With all caution, I am starting to believe that we are not going back. In the past, to get such data, we needed a strict lockdown. 

‘Now, everything is open and all the indices are falling. I am beginning to believe that the difficult times are behind us.’ 

Boris Johnson, who is due to travel to India in the coming months, also played down the issue, saying the Indian government had ‘not stopped any exports’.

He told a No 10 briefing yesterday: ‘There is a delay, but this is by no means the end of the story of the UK’s relationship with SII. We hope to make further progress over the weeks and months ahead.’

However, British officials are understood to have opened diplomatic talks with prime minister Narendra Modi’s government about lifting restrictions on exports to the UK.

A Whitehall source said there was a ‘constructive dialogue under way to work through issues’ with counterparts in New Delhi.

Asked if the Government is in talks with India, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘We’re in constant contact with other governments around the world.’

The tightening of restrictions on exports from India is thought to have been prompted by a spike in cases on the subcontinent.

Mr Hancock said next month’s supplies had also been hit by the need to re-test a batch of 1.7 million doses of the vaccine. ‘Events like this are to be expected in a manufacturing endeavour of this complexity and this shows the rigour of our safety checks,’ he said.

The Health Secretary said second doses for people would be prioritised in April, and there would also be some first doses, but he did not make clear for which groups.

‘There will be no weeks in April with no first doses,’ he said. ‘There will be no cancelled appointments as a result of supply issues – second doses will go ahead as planned.’ 

Meet India’s ‘Prince of Vaccines’ behind the drugs supply behemoth

Known as the ‘Prince of Vaccines’, Adar Poonawalla is so rich that his personal office is a converted Airbus A320.

His Mumbai home has featured in the pages of Vogue, his art collection includes works by Van Gogh and Picasso, and he converted a Mercedes into a Batmobile for his son’s sixth birthday.

The 40-year-old chief executive of the Serum Institute of India can boast that his company is the biggest vaccine manufacturer in the world by number of doses produced and sold.

An estimated two-thirds of children worldwide have received a jab from the company, including the polio vaccine, MMR and BCG injections.

Mr Poonawalla (left), pictured with his wife Natasha Poonawalla last year, is the chief executive of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer – India’s Serum Institute

But Serum began as a simple idea dreamed up by his father, Cyrus. The racehorse breeder realised his horses could provide life-saving products.

When retired animals were injected with a small amount of venom or bacteria, their serum – the fluid part of the blood – produced anti-venom for snake bites and tetanus antitoxin, which Indians desperately needed.

The Serum Institute, established in 1966, moved on to tetanus vaccines and other jabs that were scarce and had to be imported at high prices.

Cyrus Poonawalla is now reportedly India’s sixth richest man, worth more than £9billion. Such has been the firm’s success that the firm aims to produce more than a billion doses of coronavirus vaccine a year.

Poonawalla’s Mumbai home has featured in the pages of Vogue, his art collection includes works by Van Gogh and Picasso, and he converted a Mercedes into a Batmobile (pictured) for his son’s sixth birthday

Prime minister Narendra Modi boasts that India is now ‘pharmacy to the world’.

Adar, who is married to businesswoman, philanthropist and fashionista Natasha, attended the University of Westminster in London.

He told the BBC this week: ‘The pressure on Serum Institute is unprecedented.

‘We’re being tugged at by different governments in the world, we need to support AstraZeneca for the countries that they need to supply vaccines to, and we’re being literally forced to supply as much product to the Indian government as well.’

What else can we expect from a leader so vain he named a vast stadium after himself, writes MARK ALMOND of Narendra Modi 

As if the spat between Britain and the EU over Brussels’ erratic attempts to control vaccine supplies wasn’t bad enough, India has now dealt a body blow to the idea that we should all be cooperating in the global fight against the virus.

The decision to block vaccine exports by the Indian government – led by the vain Narendra Modi, who seems increasingly bent on becoming prime minister for life – is an act of blatant populism. And it has placed Boris Johnson in a very difficult position.

Only on Tuesday in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister was talking up Anglo-Indian relations.

‘I am delighted to announce that I will visit India next month to strengthen our friendship with the world’s biggest democracy,’ he told MPs.

Mr Modi’s display of vaccine nationalism – the country is the largest vaccine producer in the world – is a strange way of repaying that friendship.

The decision to block vaccine exports by the Indian government – led by the vain Narendra Modi, who seems increasingly bent on becoming prime minister for life – is an act of blatant populism

After all, it drives a coach and horses through a legally binding contract between AstraZeneca and the British government on the supply of vaccines, and can only foster mistrust in future negotiations.

Earlier this month, Mr Modi’s India spearheaded an attempt to persuade the World Trade Organisation to lift patents on vaccines, so that poorer countries could manufacture them at cost without paying premiums to big Western pharmaceutical brands.

The idea was rebuffed, and it seems India has now blocked exports in response. Never mind that AstraZeneca, unlike other drug companies, was selling its vaccine at cost price anyway.

Mr Modi, pictured, was already annoyed with Britain after Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Party MPs criticised his government over its treatment of Indian farmers protesting against agricultural reforms in the country.

Only on Tuesday in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister was talking up Anglo-Indian relations. Mr Johnson (pictured with Narendra Modi at 2019’s G7 summit) is set to travel to India next month

After all, it drives a coach and horses through a legally binding contract between AstraZeneca and the British government on the supply of vaccines, and can only foster mistrust in future negotiations

The protests have dominated headlines and social media in India. The government’s response has been to shut down internet sites concerning the protests, to arrest protesters and sympathisers as well as journalists and to use tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds.

The fact that so many of the protesting farmers are from the Sikh and Muslim minorities also shows the sinister sectarian side of Mr Modi’s political agenda. He appeals to Hindu nationalists and his policies seem bent on subordinating the non-Hindu minorities who make up a large proportion of the population.

Heavy-handed tactics like those meted out against the protesters and their supporters have come to be hallmarks of Mr Modi’s style of governance, where state power is used to intimidate and stifle critics.

Ever since he was elected in 2014, the vast Indian sub-continent has increasingly become a political one-man show.

Cricket-lovers will have noted that some of the recent India v England games were played in Ahmedabad’s newly renamed, 110,000-capacity Modi Stadium. Only North Korea’s capital has a bigger arena and even that is not named after a living leader!

And while Donald Trump may have plastered his name over his hotels and golf courses, that was before he became US president.

Thousands of spectators were allowed to watch the early games against England at the Modi stadium. But the remaining matches are being played behind closed doors following a spike in Covid cases which doubtless encouraged the government to block vaccine exports.

Yet the fact is that Modi is democratically elected. And that is what places Mr Johnson in such an invidious situation.

Because Britain sees an alliance with democratic India as crucial in curbing the belligerence of the other gigantic state in the Indo-Pacific region –China, a one-party dictatorship run by an unabashed dictator.

This is a major factor behind our PM’s planned visit. Along with the US, Japan and Australia, Britain wants India to rein in China – although it would, of course, pose an immediate security threat to India along the Himalayan border it shares with the country.

There is also India’s possible role as an alternative supply chain for vital products instead of China.

Last year’s hugely expensive fiasco of relying on China for PPE for health and care workers should have taught us the importance of finding alternative sources for such goods.

In any choice between India and China there is no doubt the British people’s instinctive sympathy will be with India.

The trouble is that Mr Modi’s vaccine nationalism will sour attitudes. If he seems too erratic a leader to rely on for vital supplies to our health service, doubts about his dependability as an ally will grow.

A rapidly developing and securely democratic India should be welcomed by everyone. But its rumbustious multi-party traditions – along with the country’s staggering global potential – are in jeopardy from a high-handed prime minister contemptuous not only of opposition but friends at home and abroad.

Mark Almond is director of the Crisis Research Institute, Oxford

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