by Jonathon Kitson
Wednesday, 6
January 2021
Spotted
07:00

50 million jabs by March — it’s possible, and necessary

Fatalism around the vaccine rollout isn't just wrong, it's unwarranted
by Jonathon Kitson
Boris Johnson holds a vial of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University Covid-19 candidate vaccine.

Mass vaccination quickly reduces hospitalisations and deaths, giving people the confidence to go back to their normal pre-coronavirus lives. However, in the manner of a doctor trying to persuade a patient in denial, the UK’s Chief Medical Officers have warned that “vaccine shortage is a reality that cannot be wished away”.

So, should politicians just accept this fatalistic advice that vaccine shortages are inevitable? I’d argue not. Just before New Year, the Serum Institute of India announced they have already produced 50 million doses of the Oxford vaccine under licence. India’s success undermines gloomy statements that nothing can be done to end the shortages.

If the UK targeted the same figure of 50 million doses to be ready during March, that would be enough to protect for all of the vulnerable, with doses left over for other essential workers like the teachers, police officers and the armed forces. Together with an accelerated distribution network using the measures in a recent paper I co-authored, the UK could quickly and confidently reopen our schools and businesses. We could finally treat coronavirus just like we treat seasonal flu.

So, given India has 50 million doses ready to go now, what are the barriers to the UK achieving the same by March? We know the Oxford vaccine manufacture process consists of two stages: first ‘bulk manufacture’ where the vaccine virus vector is grown in thousand-litre bioreactor tanks over weeks, then second ‘fill / finish’ where the bulk vaccine product is decanted into sterile glass vials, sealed and labelled.

However, despite 15 million doses of bulk vaccine product being ready, no finished vials of vaccine have been shipped from the UK factory so far. So all that stands in the way of getting 50 million doses during March, and all our lives getting back to normal, is fixing the ‘bottle-neck’ in the vaccine ‘fill / finish’ stage. Though some reports have stated that the supply of glass vials is a limiting factor, a podcast released by the Vaccine Taskforce in October states these media reports are incorrect.

If this is true, this means that the only issue standing between the UK and 50 million doses during March is increasing the rate of the ‘fill / finish’ process. This last part of the vaccine manufacturing process takes place at the Wockhardt factory in Wrexham. Though the Guardian reported the staff there had worked through Christmas, according to a report from a Welsh MP, the facility is only contracted to operate from Monday to Friday.

Given the massive cost of lockdown restrictions, moving this factory to 24 hour production and paying large bonuses for skilled workers to temporarily relocate to support this would yield huge economic returns. The simplest way to achieve this would be for the government to change its existing contract with Astrazeneca, offering them a large financial incentive for these first critical 50 million doses to be delivered before or during March.

Even with a huge mark-up of £100 a dose, the £5 billion cost of the first 50 million doses would be less than a quarter of the amount spent on the NHS Test & Trace System during 2020. This should be the easiest spending commitment any politician could ever make. The Prime Minister simply shouldn’t accept the answer “no” from his doctors on getting 50 million doses. India did it! So can the United Kingdom. Let’s get this pandemic done.

Jonathon Kitson is an independent researcher and forecaster. He has written on defence procurement, forecasting and vaccination strategy. He tweets @KitsonJ1.

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Joe Blow
Joe Blow
1 year ago

PHE absolutely MUST be dismantled post-pandemic, as it is clear that it is not fit for purpose. None of the current senior people must be allowed to work in the field again. Their incompetence is intolerable.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Joe Blow

Yes, their incompetence is matched only by their arrogance.

Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
1 year ago

This could have been done in October. It would have meant gambling that the vaccine would pass the due process but it could have been ready months ago. And if the vaccine failed the due process, it would have been a waste of several 100s of millions, but not billions that we are losing to the lockdown.

The 1,000,000 official volunteers and no doubt many times more willing to help, could have been employed for distribution and vial filling.

Pharmacists are not being used to give the vaccine despite having expertise and experience and begging the NHS to allow them to help. That’s over 11,000 capable vaccinators.

Giving a vaccine may not be as simple as sticking a needle in someone’s arm. There are risks such as damaging a nerve or muscle and having bubbles in the syringe. But medical students and graduates of medical science degrees are surely capable of being taught on a training course run perhaps by the 11,000 vaccinators. Each experienced vaccinator could train and oversee the vaccinations of 10 vaccinators. This too could have been prepared months ago.

At first it seemed like incompetence and lack of vision. Now it seems like control and power is the limiting factor.

Tim Diggle
Tim Diggle
1 year ago

Tell me if I am being foolish here but I read elsewhere that it is estimated that up to 1M people have COVID today.

Considering that this matches the March/April peak last year and allowing for the summer reductions and assuming an average 2 week period of illness this suggests to me that at least 4 or 5M people have recovered. Assuming that the asymptomatic sufferers and those who have not been tested need to be added this swells the number somewhat.

As a result, how many vaccinations do we really need to see numbers reduce? I fully accept that the information required to calculate accurately those immune through infection simply does not exist, nor ever will so long as asymptomatic infections exist, but the levels of infections, hospitalisations and deaths should provide some sort of clue. Surely it should not be beyond the wit of man to estimate immunity rates by reference to falling infection and fatality rates …

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

Well with Public Health England (has any organisation ever been more inappropriately named?) refusing to work on Sundays, I wouldn’t bet on it. Apparently in Israel they are working 24/7 including on the Sabbath to get everyone vaccinated. I think they are almost finished now*, unless they have to do all the endlessly useless, whining Palestinians as well.

*Correction. It seems they have only vaccinated on sixth of the Israeli population. Still that’s a much larger percentage than we have managed, and we are doing a lot better than the EU countries, where the whole thing is an unfolding disaster.

C Arros
C Arros
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Wow, is it fashionable these days to have entire population groups called useless and whining?

If so, does anyone have any suggestion what the Brits should be called?

Derek M
Derek M
1 year ago
Reply to  C Arros

useless and whining?

Frederik van Beek
Frederik van Beek
1 year ago

Once again:

I mean…, having Tom Chivers on board on this platform is already quite
an ordeal but this Kitson is an even greater pain in the *…The effect
of any corona-vaccine is heavily overrated because the people they’re
trying to save with it are almost dead. If you are lucky the vaccine
will do the same as the vaccines against inluenza, which is close to
nothing when you are aiming at a period of let’ say more than 2 years of
extra life expectancy

Trish Castle
Trish Castle
1 year ago

Glad I’m not alone with the sentiment about Tom Chivers. I have always wondered if he and Freddie sit down together in the break room for coffee and a yarn.

Chris Nash
Chris Nash
1 year ago

Average number of years of lives lost is about a dozen. Nearly half the people in hospital are under 65.

Steve Roberts
Steve Roberts
1 year ago

Related article on Spiked today, this was my response.As I wrote on My FB page this vaccine is last chance saloon for the establishment to claim a victory after they have destroyed so many lives in so many ways.So we can expect everything to be mobilised , we’ll take that, it’s also something I wrote about many months ago.An inability to confirm that the vaccine will prevent further infections is a large problem especially if they continue with mass testing. So after mass immunization are we to expect the cessation of mass testing? Oh the irony Lyons refers to the bureaucracy etc and undoubtedly this will extend the period required. But the problem is much deeper , we live in an entire cultural of the precautionary principle and technocratic irrational governance throughout the state and its institutions. It’s one of the reasons we got into this disgraceful mess. Even when the state mobilised with so much at stake this will not dissappesr overnight. We can expect much more of back and forth between the centre and on the ground logistics. One peripheral example..Deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), Professor Anthony Harnden on the BBC today warning of ” Vaccinator Fatigue” and a strategy needed to rotate vaccinators.. A blitz spirit.? https://www.spiked-online.c

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
1 year ago

Even if successfully implemented, this measure will not address the shortage of vaccines. Politicians have accepted that vaccine shortages are inevitable, and in wealthy nations are trying to wish them away and onto others.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

And then what? Because it is quite a stretch that the powerbrokers are that eager to loosen the reins. From changing guidance to moving goalposts to rules that cause demonstrable harm, this has been a sorry exercise in outsourcing risk management to the unaccountable third party of govt.