British ministers have promised that there will be no disruption to the supply when available of a vaccine against the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus if there ends up being a no-deal Brexit from the EU.
Both Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Business Secretary Alok Sharma have given assurances that border and supply chain issues will not interfere with vaccine supply when Britain exits the single market and customs union on Dec. 31.
Concerns have arisen around vaccine supply with only weeks to go until Brexit following results released by New York-based Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech this week showing that a vaccine candidate was strongly effective in a large phase 3 study.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, despite emphasising caution raised hopes in a press briefing earlier in the week that Pfizer’s announcement could mean that “we are at the beginning of the end of our troubles.”
Then followed a warning reported in the Telegraph on Friday from the head of UK company, Croda International, which supplies a key ingredient of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine candidate, that steering clear of border disruption would be “a crucial step” in making sure it was widely available.
On Thursday, when questioned at a Downing Street briefing whether supply might be disrupted Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the sectors that would be involved in the supply chain had been primed for the task.
“This is an issue across many sectors but that is precisely why we have been investing hundreds of millions of pounds in terms of border infrastructure, and we’ve been investing in grants for customs intermediaries,” Sharma said.
“It’s why we are making a very big effort to communicate with businesses to make sure that they are ready, so that they can get customs clearances done,” he added.
“All of that work is ongoing. If we all get prepared, we will be in absolutely the right place post-transition.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock also said he was confident that once ready a no-deal Brexit would not disrupt the import of the vaccine from Belgium amid concerns from road hauliers and about potential custom hold-ups.
“We have a plan for the vaccine, which is being manufactured in Belgium and, if necessary, we can fly it in order to avoid those problems,” he told the BBC’s Question Time programme on Thursday.
“The importance of this vaccine can’t be underestimated so we’ve got a plan for all eventualities,” he said.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, meanwhile told the BBC’s Today Programme on Friday that he too could “rule out” the possibility of vaccine supply disruption by a no-deal Brexit.
“First of all we’ve done an immense amount of work on border readiness and making sure we are able to keep goods flowing,” he said.
‘A Back Up to the Back Up’
“But even as a back up to the back up as it were, we’ve also signed a freight contract which is upwards of a hundred million pounds to make sure we are able to get category one goods which …include things like vaccines,” he added.
“So even if there are problems that we very much hope there won’t be and we’ve planned for there not to be, we still have the back up,” he said.
Hancock said he was “confident” the country could pull off the “hugely complex project” if it left the EU without a deal but also “highly confident” it would be “extremely difficult and one of the biggest logistical exercises this country has ever seen.”
He said the “good news” on the vaccine candidate did not mean “we are there yet” and there remain “a lot of steps that we need to get through.”
The government plans, he said “if all goes well” to start vaccine roll-out in “one of the biggest civilian operations in history” by the beginning of December.
He said however he was “not guaranteeing that by any stretch” with “many, many, hurdles” left to go over.
Lily Zhou contributed to this report.