According to the country’s former vaccine chief, the UK is less prepared for a pandemic than it was before the Covid crisis after driving out jab manufacturers and relying on a narrow range of shots.
Dr Clive Dix, who chaired the UK’s vaccine task force, told MPs on Wednesday there had been a “complete collapse” of work to ensure the UK was better equipped with vaccines for the next pandemic, noting that all the activity “literally gone”.
The vaccine task force is widely seen as a rare highlight in Britain’s Covid response. It was led by venture capitalist Kate Bingham and Dix, who took over as chairman in December 2020, when Britain became the first country to roll out Covid jabs.
Speaking to the Commons’ science, innovation and technology committee, Dix said he and Bingham had given ministers a set of “strong recommendations” to make sure Britain was better prepared when the next pandemic hit, but they had not been adopted or published. not. “[There were] activities that were already underway that have been stopped,” he added.
Another major concern, Dix said, was the UK’s reliance on mRNA vaccines, the approach behind the Pfizer and Moderna Covid shots, to tackle future outbreaks. “It’s really scary,” he told the hearing. “The mRNA vaccines are not the be-all and end-all. They will only work if we know what the virus is and know the antigen,” he said, referring to the part of the virus that activates the immune system.
As well as failing to invest in a range of vaccine technologies, the UK has also driven away vaccine manufacturers by treating them so poorly, Dix added, leaving the country in an even worse position than before Covid.
“What we’ve seen is a whole list of incompetent decisions,” Dix told MPs. “We have less resilience now because a lot of the UK manufacturers have walked away because of how badly they’ve been treated on the back end of the vaccine task force.”
He raised the case of Valneva, a French firm that mothballed a vaccine facility it was building in Scotland after the government canceled its contract during the final stage of clinical trials. On scrapping the deal, former health secretary Sajid Javid said the UK would not have approved the vaccinebut the medicine regulator the shot duly approved. Dix called the comments “incompetence at the highest level.”
A statement read to MPs from the Pandemic Sciences Institute at Oxford University echoed concerns about a lack of resilience, noting that Britain was unprepared for the recent mpox outbreak and “remain unprepared for an avian flu outbreak”.
Prof Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, who gave evidence with Dix, said the danger lies in preparing for a future pandemic exactly like Covid. While Covid vaccines took nearly a year to develop, they built on years of important research on coronaviruses. Work on dozens of other potential pandemic pathogens has lagged far behind, he said.
“To me, right now we’re really unsafe for future pandemic threats because we just don’t have that knowledge base that you need to even start the gun like we did in 2020,” he said. “And even then it took 11 months to have a vaccine.”