A Cabinet minister has confirmed that the UK expects its first shipment of a new coronavirus vaccine to arrive next month, despite challenges in international supplies.
The Moderna vaccine – which is 92 per cent effective against Covid-19 – still on course to arrive in April, according to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden who expressed confidence in plans to bring a third coronavirus jab to Britain.
Another vaccine would be relief for the overall vaccine rollout programme, which has seen supplies affected by issues in India, where a temporary hold on AstraZeneca exports has been imposed.
There has also been trepidation because of a row with the European Union over exports.
However, Mr Dowden insisted the vaccination programme remains “on course” to hit the target of offering a jab to all adults by July.
“We expect that in April, Moderna will come,” he told The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One.
The development came as official figures showed more than 30 million people in the UK have received a first vaccine dose, accounting for about 57 per cent of all adults.
'Nervous about a full relaxation'
Despite the good news of the Moderna vaccine’s impending arrival, Dowden was doubtful over the resumption of non-essential international travel and acknowledged all legal restrictions may not end in June as hoped, after a Government adviser raised concerns about the full relaxation.
Professor Mark Woolhouse, who advises the Government on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), said he was “a little bit nervous about a full relaxation” planned for 21 June.
He told the BBC the road map to easing restrictions in England must be “guided by the data” particularly on vaccines, adding: “The idea that we can suddenly emerge from this in one great bound, I think, is a little over-optimistic.”
Mr Dowden said another lockdown “is the last thing in the world we would want to do” but acknowledged dates in the road map may slip if things worsen.
“Of course they could be delayed if the situation deteriorates but at the moment we’re on track,” he told Marr.
Travel abroad is currently illegal other than for a few reasons, but a Government taskforce will on April 12 detail a review on whether foreign holidays can return.
Mr Dowden said “all options” are being considered when asked about a possible system that could allow shorter quarantine periods with greater testing for countries deemed less risky.
But he told Ridge there are “challenges around international travel”, pointing towards rising infection rates in Europe.
‘The UK will be hoarding limited supply’
With 17 million doses ordered by the Government, the US vaccine has been approved for use in the UK and would be the third to be rolled out after the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer jabs.
But Professor Adam Finn, an adviser on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said the limited Moderna stocks will not be a “game changer” because the “small outfit” is focusing supplies on the US.
Mr Dowden guaranteed everyone will get a second dose of a coronavirus vaccine within 12 weeks of their first after doubts were raised by French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
“Yes, of course, we’ve been planning that all the way through. It’s one of the most important considerations as we’ve rolled out the vaccine,” the minister told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
He said that “we clearly don’t currently have a surplus of vaccines” when asked about suggestions the UK was planning to offer 3.7 million jabs to Ireland.
With more than half of adults having received a jab, charities including Save the Children UK and Wellcome – led by Sage scientist Sir Jeremy Farrar – say the UK is “one of the world’s highest per-capita buyers” of vaccines, and is on track to have more than 100 million surplus doses.
Those charities are calling on Boris Johnson to immediately begin donating vaccines to poorer nations.
“There is therefore the high risk that the UK will be hoarding limited supply whilst health workers and the most vulnerable in low and middle-income countries do not have access,” their letter to the Prime Minister says.