The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the lack of vaccine manufacturing capability in the UK. We have several Universities in London and in Oxford and Cambridge with world beating scientific research capabilities. Oxford University scientists, in co-ordination with Astra Zeneca, created and tested an effective COVID-19 vaccine in record time. Our similarly outstanding regulator approved it first, using a rolling trial methodology. So far so good.
However we lack the crucial “fill and finish” capacity needed to manufacture vaccines in sufficient volumes to contain the spread of the disease across the UK, hence the rush of agreements with various companies to build the manufacturing facilities we need to guarantee the supply of vaccines sufficient to protect people across the UK.
This last minute and untested approach means that we are unfortunately likely to have both quality and timeliness issues in the supply of UK manufactured vaccines with the consequence being that the scenario of getting UK out of lockdown by Easter is highly optimistic.
The opportunity is for the UK government to ensure that we have not only the skills to identify and approve vaccines but to manufacture them in sufficient volumes to achieve herd immunity rapidly for this and future zoonotic disease pandemics which i expect only to increase as the natural habitat for animals continues to be reduced in the world.
A tactical solution would be to partner with major pharmaceutical businesses e.g. GSK with UK drug manufacturing facilities but the strategic solution, vital to our national health security, must be to have government owned facilities that work year round to supply such vaccines to customers around the world, ensuring their commercial viability, and to the UK population when most urgently needed, as they are today.