Covid: Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says vaccine supply will not be affected by travel bans

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps
Grant Shapps said the vaccine was not brought in to the UK by 'roll in, roll off' lorries. Credit: PA

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said that coronavirus vaccine supplies would not be affected by the travel bans.

A growing list of European countries are banning travel from the UK as a mutant variant of Covid-19 spreads across parts of the south-east of England.

Asked on BBC Breakfast whether he could guarantee vaccine supplies would not be impacted after a series of countries, including Ireland and France, have banned freight traffic from the UK.

Mr Shapps said: "Yes I can and the reason is actually that the vaccine wasn’t coming in through the roll on, roll off – precious few lorries had brought it in that way.

“It comes via containers and the container traffic isn’t affected at all, so this isn’t an issue with the vaccine at all and indeed will never be an issue for medicines regardless because we have freight contingencies in place.”

The prime minister is to chair a Cobra meeting on Monday in response to the ban and subsequent closures of UK services from the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel.

With 10,000 trucks normally crossing the Channel daily in the run up to Christmas there are serious concerns within the food and drink industry.

He added: "The government has to steer a sensible path through all of these things and that’s what we’re trying to do.

"There’s no rule book for fighting coronavirus, it’s easy to be a professor of hindsight and say you should do this at this particular time.

"We try to take the best decisions based on the best science and the evidence at the right time, and in this particular case as I say I’m absolutely certain that we acted the moment the scientists came to us with hard evidence that there’s an issue with this particular variant where there hadn’t been with thousands of other mutations."

Later, he told ITV's Good Morning Britain that he has spoken to his French counterpart Jean-Baptiste Djebbari with the aim of getting the ban on freight traffic from the UK resolved.

"He's very, very anxious to get this resolved," he said.

"Not least actually because it is a lot of French and European lorry drivers who are the ones who are stuck as they sell us more stuff than we sell to them.

"I'm sure there'll be some resolutions there."

He repeated that the disruption is "not an issue" with the vaccine, adding: "First of all, we have got stocks in the country already and secondly the type of lorry driving and the crossing of the channel we are talking about here only accounts for a relatively small amount of the total.

"Most of our freight is unaccompanied, this is perhaps 20% of it."

But he did say that it will have an impact on food supplies, adding: "But it is important to know that quite often disruption on that route with bad weather and strikes at Calais... and usually people don't notice that disruption at all."

While Pfizer would not comment on the specific details as to how the vaccine was transported into the UK due to security reasons, the company said it would be “utilising road and air modes of transportation via our main carrier partners”.

A Pfizer spokeswoman said: “There are a number of shipment options to transport the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer’s facilities in Belgium into the UK.

“As with all our supply chain operations, we keep these routes under close observation to mitigate against delays.

“We are working with the UK Government to help prevent current circumstances from impacting scheduled shipments of the vaccine into the UK.”