Video report by ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke
AstraZeneca is on target to deliver two million doses of its Covid vaccine every week in the UK by the middle of next month, the pharmaceutical giant's boss has told MPs.
Appearing before the Commons Science and Technology Committee, AstraZeneca UK president Tom Keith-Roach said the company was scaling-up of deliveries of the vaccine “very rapidly” with the rate likely to hit two million earlier than mid-February - and could even exceed it from April.
Mr Keith-Roach said he could not give a comprehensive timeline as the firm had been asked by the UK Vaccines Taskforce “not to share in public forum in detail daily delivery schedules and locations for security reasons".
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“As you can imagine it’s very sensitive, but I can reassure you that we will scale to two million doses per week very quickly,” he said.
But vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi, who was also appearing in front of the committee, was accused by Labour MP Graham Stringer of being “phobic” to the numbers and keeping data on vaccine supplies “secret”.
Mr Zahawi said “this idea that we are sitting on lots of stock is not true”, adding that deliveries of central stocks were unpredictable at the moment.
He told MPs the initial vaccination supply had been “lumpy” but he now had “line of sight” of deliveries to the end of February.
To date, 1.1 million doses of the company’s Covid-19 jab developed with Oxford University had been released to the UK.
Mr Keith-Roach told MPs: “We are scaling up very rapidly – and this will happen imminently – to releasing two million doses a week.
“We’re absolutely on track to do that and therefore deliver tens of millions of doses in the first quarter of the year.
“If we average two million a week through the course of the year, that gets us to the 100 million doses that we’re committed to the UK through the course of 2021.”
He said the manufacture of the vaccine depends on a complex biological process which cannot be carried out more quickly.
“Drug substance manufacture is a 58- to 60-day process that you cannot speed up – that is a complex biological process of actually growing the adenovirus vector,” he said.
Mr Zahawi said: “In any manufacturing process, especially one where you’re dealing with a biological compound, a novel vaccine is lumpy at the outset,” he said.
“There’s no doubt that it was, but getting better. It begins to stabilise and you get much clearer line of sight.
“I now have line of sight of deliveries all the way through until end of February and getting more confidence about March as well.
“We have millions of doses coming through in the weeks and then next month and the month after.”
Later he said: “By the end of the month we’ll be able to deploy two million a week. And then we keep going.”