People could be forced to wait up to two years to access a Covid-19 vaccine due to the UK government’s failure to secure vital supply chain items, experts have warned.
Concern has been raised that the UK does not have enough medical-grade glass vials, refrigerated lorries or PPE for the mass rollout of a vaccine across the country.
This comes despite claims made by health secretary Matt Hancock that a vaccine could be ready on a nationwide scale in the early part of next year.
One logistical group involved in the delivery of the Oxford vaccine said it was “not aware” No 10 had spoken to them, or manufacturers AstraZeneca, to ensure vital supply chain procedures are in place should the candidate gain approval.
“We may not get the mass vaccination on the timeline we think,” Philip Ashton, chief executive of logistics advisory group 7Bridges, told The i.
“It is doable if the Government commences the planning right now. We can expect frontline workers and high-risk populations to be vaccinated by the end of next year, but vaccinating the entire population is a real challenge.”
The logistics expert does not believe the UK has enough ‘cold chain’ lorries for the transportation of the vaccine doses.
The 'cold chain' is a system of storing and transporting vaccines at recommended temperatures from the point of manufacture to the point of administration.
Temperatures typically range between 2C and 8C.
A source involved with the Oxford Vaccine Group, one of the teams working on the Oxford candidate, also told the i that the government was not prepared for the logistical challenges that lay ahead.
“It is the government’s role to source the reagents needed to produce the vaccine, but with many countries such as China hoarding their supplies, I know the OVG is concerned that it will not have enough, and quickly enough, to produce the vaccine in the amounts required,” the source said.
The Independent also understands the team behind the Oxford University vaccine does not expect doses to be available on a nationwide scale until late next year at the earliest.
It is estimated the UK will require up to 120 million doses, enough to conduct a two-shot vaccination programme for the entire population.
Research by Airfinity, a data-based science analysis agency, shows that the government has so far pre-ordered 380 million doses from a variety of global manufacturers - equating to 5.7 shots per person.
However, shortages in medical-grade glass vials to store the vaccine could limit the number of doses available for the general population.
Professor Mark Woolhouse, a government medical adviser who sits on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, has suggested the majority of people in the UK could be waiting for two years to access the vaccine.
He said that “alternatives” such as mass population testing would be needed to manage the disease in the meantime.
“Most of the people I talk to who are involved in vaccine development think that we may have a vaccine in six months, but it’s doubtful that we would have been able to roll it out on a mass scale by that time,” he said.
The first vaccine doses are set to be administered to frontline healthcare workers and vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and sick.
It is widely expected that this stage of vaccination will start taking place in the first half of next year.