The government has not “struck the right balance between making decisions quickly and maintaining transparency” in the UK’s vaccine rollout, according to MPs.
In a report the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said processes around investment decisions were changed to make faster decisions and increase the chances of purchasing vaccines.
The report said the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which is in charge of securing the UK’s vaccine supply, reduced the amount of time allowed for investment decisions, created new structures to speed up approval of expenditure over £150m, and increased the amount of investment BEIS could approve internally.
The Vaccines Taskforce, set up by BEIS in April 2020, did not compare potential vaccines against a common quantitative scoring mechanism in its due diligence checks, “making it more difficult to compare how each vaccine was selected”, said the report.
BEIS agreed upfront payments worth £914m in the five contracts signed up to 8 December 2020 before any of the vaccines had been approved. This created a “substantial” risk for taxpayers’ money. MPs said they recognised “the priority was speed”.
The PAC, referring to its previous reports on PPE and ventilators, said despite needing to operate at speed, “departments still had a duty to carry out full due diligence for all parts of the supply chain as part of procurement”.
“BEIS has managed significant uncertainty and worked at pace to purchase vaccines, but it could have been more transparent about how key decisions were made,” said the report.
The PAC said “concerns remain over the vaccine supply chain”, with “conflicting statements about vaccine supply”.
BEIS was “unequivocal that supply will not be a constraint in meeting the government’s 15 February target” while investment in manufacturing meant “the UK could manufacture all the vaccine doses that it might need should this contingency be required”.
“Yet on the same day we took evidence the secretary of state for health and social care stated that supply of the vaccine is the rate-limiting factor for deployment plans,” said the PAC.
The report said by November 2020 BEIS had signed contracts to secure 267m potential vaccine doses at an expected cost of £2.9bn. By January 2021 this had risen to 367m doses.
The PAC said despite challenges such as the need to store the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine at -70C, “97.3% of vaccine deliveries so far have been made on time and in full”.
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