The pace of Britain’s rollout of Covid-19 vaccines is being limited by the supply of shots, and the government is working with both Pfizer and AstraZeneca to increase supplies, health minister Matt Hancock said on Thursday.
The government must quickly ramp up the rate of vaccinations in order to meet an ambitious target to inoculate more than 13 million people who are elderly, vulnerable or frontline workers by mid-February.
“The rate limiting step is the supply of vaccine, and we’re working with the companies, both Pfizer and of course AstraZeneca, to increase the supply,” Hancock told broadcasters.
“The manufacturers are doing a brilliant job, and they’re delivering to the schedule that’s agreed, but that schedule is the amount of vaccine that we have … we expect to see that amount of vaccine being delivered going up.”
Hancock spoke after the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University was rolled out in doctors surgeries from Thursday.
More than 1.3 million people in the United Kingdom have received one shot of either AstraZeneca’s or Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, but the government needs to be administering around 2 million doses a week to hit its February target.
In a sign of supply constraints, one doctor visited by Hancock on Thursday said she had not received the delivery of AstraZeneca’s vaccine she had been expecting.
Birmingham City Council’s leader and local lawmakers also wrote to Hancock saying no AstraZeneca vaccine was available in the central English city and that stocks of the Pfizer shot would run out on Friday.
Britain is prioritising the administration of an initial shot to more people, delaying second doses beyond a month after the first.
Just 20,000 people received their second shot of the Pfizer vaccine before the guidance was changed. Pfizer has said there is no data for the efficacy of the first shot beyond 21 days.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that if the vaccine rollout goes to plan, new lockdown measures introduced this week could start to be eased in February.
Johnson, who will give a news conference later on Thursday, has previously cited the time it takes for the regulator to approve batches of AstraZeneca’s vaccine as one limiting factor.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine was first deployed in hospitals on Monday. It does not have the ultra-low temperature requirements that Pfizer’s does, making it easier to roll out.
Initial boxes of the Pfizer vaccine contained nearly 1,000 doses, but the NHS said smaller boxes had also been approved for use that could be used in settings like care homes without wasting doses.