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Britain says delay in Serum Institute vaccines contributing to supply squeeze

  • Delivery of AstraZeneca shots from India contributed to delay.
  • Britain has warned of significantly reduced supplies in April.
  • Serum Institute says will try to supply more vaccine later.
18 Mar 2021

LONDON: Britain is facing a squeeze on supply of COVID-19 vaccines next month in part due to a delay in a shipment from India's Serum Institute that is making AstraZeneca's shot, health minister Matt Hancock said on Thursday.

Britain has been conducting the fastest roll-out of inoculations by a major economy but health officials said on Wednesday the programme would face a significant reduction in supplies from March 29, without initially specifying where the problems were.

"We have a delay in a scheduled arrival from the Serum Institute of India," Hancock told lawmakers.

Britain is using vaccines made by Pfizer and AstraZeneca, with 10 million doses of the 100 million ordered from AstraZeneca coming from the Serum Institute.

A spokesman for the Serum Institute said it had delivered 5 million doses to the UK a few weeks ago.

"And we will try to supply more later, based on the current situation and requirement for the government immunisation programme in India," he said.

Despite the comments by officials in Britain, Pfizer and AstraZeneca said on Wednesday their delivery schedules had not been impacted. An AstraZeneca spokesman said on Wednesday that "UK domestic supply chain is not experiencing any disruption".

Hancock added that, separately, a batch of 1.7 million vaccine doses had been delayed as it had to be retested, without specifying the manufacturer.

"Events like this are to be expected in a manufacturing endeavour of this complexity," Hancock said.

MODERNA VACCINE TO BE ADDED

Hancock denied rumours that the delays would mean no adults would get a first dose of the vaccine in April, but said it was important to make sure there was enough vaccine to give people a second dose within 12 weeks of their first.

He also said that Britain was on target to offer everyone over 50 a first shot by mid-April, and a shot to all adults by the end of July. He added that a roadmap for lifting lockdown restrictions in England was unaffected.

So far 25.27 million people in the United Kingdom have had a first shot of vaccine, around 48% of adults. The country is on track to reach 50% in the next few days.

Earlier, housing minister Robert Jenrick said that supplies would pick up again in May, and Moderna Inc has said it is expecting first deliveries of its vaccine to Britain to start in April.

Hancock said Britain expected doses of Moderna's vaccine to arrive "in the coming weeks".

TENSIONS WITH THE EU

The announcement of a supply shortfall coincided with a resurgence in tensions with the European Union, which is frustrated by a lack of exports of AstraZeneca's vaccine from Britain.

The EU threatened on Wednesday to ban exports of COVID-19 vaccines to Britain to safeguard scarce doses for its own citizens. Britain imports Pfizer's vaccine from Europe.

Hancock said that European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen had previously said that there should not be restrictions on companies who are fulfilling contractual responsibilities after Jenrick said he was "surprised and disappointed" with her comments.

"There is of course a need for all countries to respect contract law... and I'm sure that the European Union will live up to the commitments and statements that it has made," Hancock said.

"We fully expect those contracts to be delivered on, because there are very significant consequences to breaking contract law."

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