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.
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.
‘Customs Intermediaries’“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.
“The importance of this vaccine can’t be underestimated so we’ve got a plan for all eventualities,” 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.