UK COVID-19 Vaccine Spending Near £12 Billion: Report

December 17, 2020 Updated: December 17, 2020

The current estimate of spending on COVID-19 vaccinations is £11.7 billion ($15.9 billion), the UK’s public spending watchdog reported on Wednesday.

This includes the purchasing and manufacturing of vaccines for the whole of the UK and their deployment in England, and support for the research and development of potential vaccines.

The cost for deployment of vaccines in the other devolved administrations, the crown dependencies, and overseas territories is not included in the figure as they are responsible for deployment, the National Audit Office (NAO) said.

The NAO on Wednesday published its first investigative report (pdf) on the preparations for potential COVID-19 vaccines.

The report shows that the UK government signed deals for a total of 267 million doses of five different vaccines between August and November, including 100 million from Astra Zeneca UK and Oxford University, 60 million from Valneva, 40 million from Pfizer and BioNTech, 60 million from Novavax, and 7 million from Moderna.

The cost of these vaccines 12 expected to be £2.9 billion ($3.9 billion).

An additional 90 million doses may be available at £800 million ($1,087 million) from Janssen (30 million), and Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline (60 million), the NAO said, according to non-binding agreements with the companies that may develop into formal contracts.

The watchdog said the government originally intended to purchase up to 12 vaccines, but later reduced the number to up to nine as its understanding of requirements and costs developed.

The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which is responsible for securing vaccines for the UK, agreed to pay a total of £914 million ($1,242 million) upfront when signing the five contracts to fund the manufacturing and clinical trials of the vaccines. The NAO said the contracts require these payments to be used against future purchases of the vaccine if they are approved as safe and effective.

“Only one of the contracts BEIS has signed provides for the full upfront payment to be refunded should the vaccine fail to achieve regulatory approval,” the NAO said.

“Two other contracts contain provisions for BEIS to recover some of the upfront payments if the contract is terminated, but for the remaining two contracts the upfront payments are non-refundable.”

There is a clause in the contracts in the event of potential litigation related to the new vaccines.

“Many pharmaceutical companies requested immunity in the event of liabilities or legal action relating to their vaccines, meaning the taxpayer may have to pay the costs of claims against them,” the NAO said

“In four out of the five contracts agreed so far, no cap has been applied to the amount that government could pay in the event of a successful claim against the pharmaceutical companies.”

BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine
A paramedic prepares a shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as people wait at a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Chertsey, England, on Dec. 16, 2020. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Since the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus epidemic in China became a global pandemic, the world’s governments have been racing to secure medical supplies such as personal protective equipment, ventilators, and potential vaccines.

The NAO said the UK government had changed investment approval procedures to fast-track the vaccine procurement.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, praised the government for moving fast in the dark.

“Developing and securing an effective vaccine is central to reducing the impact of COVID-19 on society and saving lives,” Davies said in a statement.

“Government has worked quickly and effectively to secure access to potential vaccines, using the available information to make big decisions in an inherently uncertain environment.”

Davies added that there are still “significant challenges” in rolling out the vaccines.

“With one vaccine now approved for use and its roll out started, significant challenges remain. Efficient delivery to the UK population presents complex logistical challenges and requires excellent communication with the public,” he said.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine became the first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved in the UK on Dec. 2, and vaccination began on Dec. 8.

Provisional figures from the government released on Wednesday showed that 137,897 people had received the first of two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the first week of the roll-out.

Working on the assumption of vaccinating 25 million people in England by the end of 2021, NHS England and NHS Improvement, which is in charge of designing and implementing England’s vaccination delivery models, estimated that up to 26,000 vaccinators and 20,000 administrative staff need to be hired.