The UK will also be affected by reduced vaccine supplies and will slow down the vaccination campaign from March 29th. On the day it was announced that 25 million citizens had already received the first dose (40% of the population), the National Health Services Administration (NHS, for its English abbreviation) ordered through a letter addressed to the various centers that would do so. Stop closing appointments for those under 50, effective March 29, and focus on administering a second dose.
Johnson’s government has based its vaccination strategy on reaching the largest number of people with the first dose, which is why it has extended the period from injection to injection to 12 weeks. In the case of the Pfizer vaccine, the manufacturer suggested that no more than 21 days have passed between the two doses. The number of those fully vaccinated – with two entrances – barely reaches 1.8 million. “The Government Vaccine Working Group has informed us that there will be a significant reduction in weekly supplies provided by manufacturers starting the week beginning March 29th. Volumes for the first dose will be severely restricted. The problem is expected to persist for four weeks, due to reduced manufacturing for national consumption,” Text warns.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock tried to downplay the news, attributing the content of the letter to the usual twists and turns of the vaccination plan. He said: “The supply has always been erratic, but we remain within the framework of the goal of providing the vaccine to all those over fifty, so that they can receive the first dose before April 15th.” The minister was not aware that the government also expected that by the end of July the entire adult population in the UK had received at least one injection. Announced delay indicates a delay in forecasts and a message, for those under the age of 50, that they still have to wait at least another month.
This announcement coincides with heightened tension between the European Commission and Downing Street. Brussels considers that there is a marked imbalance between the vaccines the UK receives from factories on the continent and those that it exports – practically zero – to other European countries. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen threatened to prevent exports to British territory. The Johnson administration asked it to fulfill its obligation to enable companies to fulfill contractual obligations. The UK receives vaccines only from the Pfizer plant in Belgium. AstraZeneca has several factories in the UK. Johnson’s government expected the European Union for several months and pledged 100 million doses with the Anglo-Swedish giant.
Although Johnson’s government has denied that it has banned exports at any time, the truth is that it has assured AstraZeneca that supplies to the rest of Europe will only be launched once the island’s vaccination plan is complete. Like other manufacturers, AstraZeneca found, when the time came, that the biological vaccine manufacturing process was not producing the expected performance and had to reduce the number of doses promised to its customers. The United Kingdom will also be affected by this reduction.