U.K. Faces Significant Cut in Vaccine Supply for Four Weeks

U.K. Faces Significant Cut in Vaccine Supply for Four Weeks

The U.K. is facing a “significant” four-week cut in the supply of Covid-19 vaccines from late-March, forcing medics to stop taking bookings from new patients for next month.

The shortage will mean a shift in focus to providing second doses to the most-vulnerable people who’ve already been offered jabs, and those in priority groups who’ve not yet taken up the offer. The news came as Britain announced that more than 25 million people have now had a first shot of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca Plc vaccines -- about half the adult population.

In a letter Wednesday to local health-service groups, NHS England said the cut in supply is a result of reductions in “national inbound vaccines.” That explanation risks fueling the already heated debate over whether the European Union, which is lagging behind in its immunization program, should block vaccine exports to the U.K.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock later downplayed the supply delays, telling a news conference that the NHS letter was routine and vaccine shipments have always been “lumpy.” He said the goal to offer a first dose to the entire U.K. adult population by mid-July remains in place, with over 50s still set to get their shots by the middle of next month.

Even so, vaccination centers and pharmacies were ordered to stop taking new bookings from March 29 and not to upload new appointments onto the national booking service for the whole of April.

‘Anxious and Worried’

“The Government’s Vaccines Task Force have now notified us that there will be a significant reduction in weekly supply available from manufacturers beginning in the week commencing 29 March, meaning volumes for first doses will be significantly constrained,” NHS Chief Commercial Officer Emily Lawson said in the letter. “They now currently predict this will continue for a four-week period, as a result of reductions in national inbound vaccines supply.”

The U.K.’s main opposition Labour Party demanded Hancock explain the hold-up.

“People across the country will be anxious and worried,” said Labour’s health spokesman, Jonathan Ashworth. “Matt Hancock needed to explain exactly what these supply issues are and what he is doing to resolve them.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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