The UK is continuing the COVID-19 vaccine rollout at full steam but the programme is encountering some issues.
Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi said a “lumpy” manufacturing process is hindering progress, as supply is expected to be disrupted by a delay at AstraZeneca PLC (LON:AZN) and production changes at Pfizer Inc (NYSE:PFI).
Zahawi hoped to achieve 2mln vaccines a week thanks to the FTSE 100 firm but the goal is now postponed to mid-February.
“There’s bound to be delays. Any new manufacturing process has challenges at the outset, it is lumpy, it begins to stabilise and get better and better week in, week out,” he told the BBC on Monday.
“The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine is a messenger RNA chemical, difficult chemical to manufacture, very very challenging but they’re doing really well, they want to do more which is why they’re reconfiguring to add volume to the whole world… That could delay supply but I’m confident we can meet our target.”
Zahawi also said twenty-four-hour inoculation sites are going to pilot in London before the end of the month.
Professor Stephen Powis, the NHS national medical director for England, told Sky News the scheme is planned for "within the next week or two".
At the moment, those who are called in can receive their jab between 8am and 8pm, which has allowed to cover most of the over-80s in certain areas of the country.
However, officials reckon a continuous service could be beneficial to administer the vaccine to younger age groups, especially for workers.
Expanding the rollout
After around half of the over-80s have received their jabs, the NHS is issuing invitation letters to another two sets of priority groups.
As of Monday, 5.5mln people aged 70 and over and those clinically extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 will be asked to schedule a date.
The Department of Health and Social Care said the focus is to vaccinate the top 2 cohorts – care home residents and staff, and those aged 80 and over and frontline health and care staff – but sites that have enough capacity can move to other groups.
The UK has so far administered at least the first dose to 3.8mln residents, with a rate of 140 people per minute.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said on Sunday the government aims to have offered the first jab to all UK adults by September.
Valneva plans UK supply in the summer
French firm Valneva is hoping to supply the UK with its vaccine over the summer, between July and September, as London previously agreed to buy 60mln doses.
“We are days away from starting the commercial manufacturing,” chief executive Thomas Lingelbach told The Mail on Sunday.
“We cannot release it without regulatory approval so we’re in a little bit of a Catch-22 situation and there are certainly scenarios that we are currently discussing with the regulators… But we have already signed up to give priority to the UK and this is something we’re currently working on.”