Delays Hit Oxford-Astra Vaccine Production for U.K. Supply

The U.K. is struggling to stock up on supplies of a potentially game-changing coronavirus vaccine, a top government official has said.

Kate Bingham, chair of the U.K. Vaccine Taskforce, said only 4 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Plc shot will be available by the end of the year, far fewer than the 30 million that were due to be ready by September.

The question is moot for now given that no vaccine has been approved for use and trials are still ongoing, and AstraZeneca said it’s confident it can begin supplying hundreds of millions of doses on a “rolling basis” once a shot is cleared. But the difficulties cast doubt on how fast the U.K. will be able to deploy vaccines seen as critical in allowing life to return to normal.

Boris Johnson’s government has been accused in the past of promising more than it is able to deliver and the news that its vaccine planning is behind schedule risks fueling further criticism of his handling of the pandemic.

Despite the supply limitations, health officials in England said doctors across the country are being put on standby to administer vaccines just in case shots are approved for use before the end of this year.

The U.K.’s drug regulator has started accelerated reviews of vaccines under development by Pfizer Inc. and AstraZeneca, as Britain gets ready to approve the first successful shot as quickly as possible.

Millions of Doses

Speaking to Parliament’s science committee, Bingham estimated the U.K. would have 4 million doses of the Oxford vaccine available to deploy by the end of the year, and as many as 10 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

“We’re going to have more vaccine than we’ll be able to deploy is my expectation,” Bingham said. “I don’t think vaccine supply is going to be the limiting step.”

AstraZeneca said many of the sites in its global network have begun commercial manufacturing and that it is making quick progress in getting every stage of the supply chain ready so it can begin deploying doses immediately.

“While we are ready to produce finished products, we must be thoughtful of how much is progressed to the final stages of the process to ensure maximum shelf life,” a spokesman for the company said in an email.

Bingham also said the odds of having a vaccine at some point in the next year that could wipe out the virus are probably “very slim.” The possibility of having a vaccine during that period that reduces illness and deaths is “very high,” she predicted. “The data being generated so far by multiple vaccines and companies is pretty good,” she said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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