Covid: Matt Hancock reveals Matt Damon film Contagion inspired UK vaccine strategy

In the 2011 movie, directed by Steven Soderbergh, health officials scramble to contain a new deadly virus which becomes pandemic after being spread by an infected pig. Credit: AP/PA

Matt Hancock has revealed the movie Contagion, a film about a deadly viral pandemic, provided him inspiration for the UK's Covid-19 vaccine strategy.

The health secretary said the film, starring Matt Damon, had helped demonstrate to him the importance of securing enough vaccines once they had been approved, though he was careful to point out it was not his sole inspiration for bulk buying jabs ahead of the pack.

The Cabinet minister told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "I think the safest thing to say is it wasn't my only source of advice on this issue but I did watch the film - it is actually based on the advice of very serious epidemiologists.

"The insight that was so necessary at the start was that the big pressure on vaccines internationally would not be before they were approved - of course, there was a huge amount of work then - but it was after they are approved.

"So, one of the things I did early (on), was insist that when we had the Oxford vaccine, and we backed it from the start and that was great, I insisted that UK production protects people in the UK in the first instance. And, as the UK Health Secretary, that is my duty."

In the 2011 movie, directed by Steven Soderbergh, health officials scramble to contain a new deadly virus which becomes pandemic after being spread by an infected pig.

Eventually, a vaccine is introduced to tackle the virus, but there are not enough doses to go around, and they are divvied up based on a lottery-style process.

According to a former Department for Heath and Social Care adviser, the scenario had an impact on the health secretary.

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The adviser told Sky News that when procuring vaccines, Mr Hancock "would keep referring to the end of the film".

"He was always really aware from the very start, first that the vaccine was really important, second that when a vaccine was developed we would see an almighty global scramble for this thing."

Mr Hancock told LBC: "I knew when the vaccine came good... that the demand for it would be huge and that we would need to be ready to vaccinate every adult in the country.

“In the film, it shows that the moment of highest stress around the vaccine programme is not in fact before it’s rolled out, when actually it’s the scientists and the manufacturers working together at pace, it’s afterwards when there is a huge row about order of priority.

“So not only in this country I insisted that we order enough for every adult to have their two doses but also we asked for that clinical advice on the prioritisation very early and set it out in public I think for the first time... in August or September so that there was no big row about the order of priory."

"Instead, we ask the clinicians and we do it on the basis of how we save most lives most quickly."

It was revealed earlier in the pandemic that Mr Hancock overruled his advisers to buy 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, instead of 30 million doses.

The health secretary said he "wasn’t going to settle for less" than an order that would be enough to vaccinate every adult in the UK.

He welcomed a study on the Oxford vaccine which showed a single dose of the jab may reduce transmission of coronavirus by 67%, according to a new study.

The data provides a major boost to the UK’s policy of delaying the second jab for up to 12 weeks.

Mr Hancock told GMB it "demonstrates that the vaccine protects you and it helps cut the transmission of the disease across the whole community".

"It just shows that the strategy has been right of backing those vaccines"

He added: "The other finding in this report is that the with the 12 week gap between first and second dose, you actually get stronger protection than you do with the shorter gap."

The health secretary also said he is "optimistic" about the prospect of people being able to enjoy a holiday in the summer.

"I'm optimistic that we will have a great British summer," he said.

"The challenge we all still have is we have to keep control of the virus, so we have got to monitor progress.

"But the vaccine rollout is going well, the vaccines clearly work and so this is really, really good progress."

Government data up to February 1 shows of the 10,143,511 jabs given in the UK so far, 9,646,715 were first doses - a rise of 350,348 on the previous day's figures.

Some 496,796 were second doses, an increase of 2,587 on figures released the previous day.

The seven-day rolling average of first doses given in the UK is now 399,055.

Based on the latest figures, an average of 411,791 first doses of vaccine would be needed each day in order to meet the Government's target of 15 million first doses by February 15.

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