VACCINES will be unavailable throughout April, the NHS has said.
The blow means anyone under the age of 50 will have to wait longer for their jab.
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The reasons why are unclear, with contradictory comments coming from jab makers, ministers and NHS sources.
A leaked NHS letter yesterday said first doses will be “significantly constrained” due to a “significant reduction in supply from manufacturers”.
But jab-makers claim there is nothing wrong on their end.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said vaccines remain “on track” and that every adult will get their jab by the end of July.
But cabinet minister Robert Jenrick conceded the rollout of vaccines would be slightly slower than expected because of the shortage.
What do we know so far about the vaccine shortage?
What has the NHS said?
A bombshell letter, revealed yesterday, said there would be a predicted four-week blip in vaccines “as a result of reductions in national inbound supply”.
NHS bosses told local leaders to avoid inviting anyone under 50 years old for a jab, just days before those in their 40s were expected to be invited up.
Only under “'exceptional circumstances” can a younger person be offered a dose.
Mr Hancock played the severity of the letter down, and did not mention the dip in supply in his opening comments at Downing Street last night.
When quizzed by journalists, Mr Hancock argued it was a “standard” technical letter – and there have been similar letters in the past.
But the implications could be far more far-reaching than implied, as experts have said it could slow down the lifting of lockdown.
An NHS source told The Guardian the letter was “unusual” and: “It’s a futile exercise for Hancock to try to downplay it.”
How will you be affected?
If you are over the age of 50, the NHS has invited you to book your coronavirus jab online.
After the top nine groups have been given their first dose – likely to be the end of March – it was planned for the second phase of the rollout to start, going through the general population by age group.
Those in their 40s were to start being invited for their vaccine in a couple of weeks, with those in their 30s being called up sometime in April.
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy head of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, told BBC Breakfast on Monday people in their 40s will be offered vaccines “before Easter”.
But now, those in their 40s won't be invited until May, and from there, it's unclear when younger people will be called up and how slow the process will be.
It's understood there will be enough doses to give people who were vaccinated earlier in the year their second dose.
To add further confusion, the Government said “more people will continue to receive first and second doses” in the coming weeks.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said:
“As has been the case since the programme began, the number of vaccinations carried out over time will vary due to supply.
“But we remain on track to offer a first vaccine to over-50s by April 15 and all adults by July 31.”
Where does the delay come from?
There is a lack of clarity from the Government about the source of problems.
It is thought a shortfall of five million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine from India is behind the slump.
A delivery of 10 million had been expected from the Serum Institute of India, the BBC reported, but half the doses have been held up by four weeks.
A spokesperson for the Serum Institute of India said: “Five million doses had been delivered a few weeks ago to the UK and we will try to supply more later, based on the current situation and the requirement for the government immunisation programme in India.”
Disruption to the UK’s supply does not appear to be linked to tensions with the EU.
Yesterday European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen threatened to stop exports to countries like the UK where vaccine rollouts were successful.
Ms von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels she is “ready to use whatever tool we need” to ensure the reliable delivery of vaccines.
Asked about her comments yesterday and whether they were behind the supply problems, Mr Hancock said “we fully expect” vaccine contracts to be delivered.
“This vaccine is provided at cost to the whole world … and we legally signed a contract for delivery of the first 100 million doses for people here, for people in the UK.
AstraZeneca is thought to have experienced what one NHS official called “manufacturing capacity problems”.
An NHS source told The Guardian vaccines are “biological products that are being manufactured for the first time and at pace, therefore things could always go wrong”.
Prof Finn, from the University of Bristol and a member of the JCVI, told BBC Radio 4 that “vaccines are definitely tricky when it comes to supply”.
He added: “Historically we’ve always tried in the UK to have more than one supplier of more than one vaccine, whenever possible, because this does come up from time to time.
“And I think even more so then at the present time, because these vaccines are new technology, and manufacturing them at scale is quite tricky.”
Supply is “always lumpy” – Matt Hancock
Mr Hancock brushed off the delays in doses as what would be typical, saying vaccine supply was “always lumpy”.
He insisted the nation was on track to meet the target of offering a first dose to all over-50s by April 15, and all adults by the end of July.
“And, of course, these supply schedules have moved up and down throughout this whole rollout. It’s absolutely par for the course and that’s a normal operation letter.
“We are committed to all adults being able to get the jab by the end of July and we are on track to deliver on that commitment.”
Mr Jenrick told BBC Breakfast the rollout “won’t be as fast as we might have hoped for a few weeks, but then we have every reason to believe that supply will increase in the months of May, June and July”.
Manufacturers claim to be “on track”
Manufacturers of Covid vaccines have not reported any problems.
A Pfizer spokeswoman said deliveries “remain on track” for the first quarter of its 40 million dose agreement with the UK, with a “steady supply of vaccines” delivered to the nation.
Meanwhile, an AstraZeneca spokeswoman said: “Our UK domestic supply chain is not experiencing any disruption and there is no impact on our delivery schedule.”
Moderna said today its vaccines will start to be delivered in April, after regulatory approval in January.
Although No10 has secured a deal for 17 million doses, it's understood only 2.5 million will initially be available.
Supplies are strained globally
Although Brits may be disheartened by the news, ministers said vaccines are tight everywhere – not just the UK.
Mr Jenrick told BBC Radio 4: “A number of global manufacturers are experiencing issues.”
Pressed if the issue was vaccine coming from India, he said: “It’s not that there’s any one factory responsible for this or any one country.”
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