George Dyer, 90, was the first person in London to receive the Pfizer vaccine © Dan Charity - Pool/Getty Images
George Dyer, 90, was the first person in London to receive the Pfizer vaccine © Dan Charity - Pool/Getty Images

UK decided against joint purchasing of Covid vaccines

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
8 December 2020

The UK had talks with the European Union (EU) over joint procurement of coronavirus vaccines but decided not to go ahead with such a scheme, according to a report.

The report, an independent review of the work of the UK Vaccine Taskforce (VTF), said joint purchasing would have meant the UK had no say in vaccine choice or contract terms.

However, the report went on to say the UK had to “explore creative deal structures and approaches” because it was placing smaller orders than larger countries and the EU.

“Following constructive discussions, HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] ultimately chose not to participate in the EU joint procurement on vaccines, as it would not have been possible for the UK to have a say in decisions such as vaccine choice or key contract terms,” said the report.

“It would also not have been possible for us to participate whilst also pursuing negotiations with individual vaccine suppliers.”

The report said the VTF was “not able to adopt typical outsourcing practices of competing supply contracts since we were purchasing vaccines that were unproven clinically with unproven manufacturing processes, from suppliers each in a monopoly position in a very competitive market, with strictly limited near-term supply”.

“The UK was typically placing considerably smaller orders than other larger countries and consortiums such as the US or the EU which meant the UK had to explore creative deal structures and approaches to ensure early supply,” said the report.

The VTF, established in April 2020, said the UK had struck deals to access seven different vaccines and a total of 357m doses.

The rollout of 40m doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine began this week.

The report said the UK had committed up to £548m to the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (Covax), a multinational scheme to provide vaccines to countries around the world.

“The biggest challenge facing the world is to establish a fair global pooling facility for buying, manufacturing, and distributing pandemic vaccines to all those people at risk around the world, since national solutions will not control the pandemic alone,” said the report.

Kate Bingham, outgoing chair of the VTF, said: “BEIS [Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy] officials managed the procurement processes for day-to-day operating matters.

“We should recognise the flexibility and nimbleness of the civil service and the ministers who balanced appropriate oversight and governance measures with respect to spending taxpayer money, with the making of big, difficult decisions at pace.

“Without this streamlining of decision making, it is unlikely that the VTF could have delivered this successful range of outcomes in such a short time.”

In March the government said a communication problem meant it did not receive an invitation to join EU joint procurements of ventilators.

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