British confident of vaccine supply from manufacturers

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said on Wednesday it was confident in manufacturers’ timely supply of COVID-19 vaccines to keep fuelling one of the world’s fastest rollouts despite a slowdown this week.

FILE PHOTO: British Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi speaks at the House of Commons in London, Britain February 4, 2021. ?UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has accelerated the UK’s vaccine rollout, aiming to give all adults a first dose by the end of July. But on Monday it recorded the lowest number of first doses given since daily figures were first reported.

“We have real confidence in our supply and our visibility of supply,” vaccine deployment minister Nadhim Zahawi told lawmakers, saying the government talked to manufacturers near-daily.

“We’re very confident that we can meet those targets, because we’ve got enough line of sight of our deliveries.”

Johnson has outlined a plan to ease England’s lockdown, assuming a successful vaccine rollout.

Health Minister Matt Hancock had said this week would be quieter for vaccinations due to uneven supply schedules, but he expected supplies to increase next month.

Britain is rolling out shots developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca, though Johnson has said he is concerned about the possibility of “vaccine-busting” coronavirus variants.

Pfizer and AstraZeneca have said that both vaccines offer some protection again all current variants, and AstraZeneca has said it hopes the next generation of vaccine will be ready this year if needed.

“We need to be prepared if there is a need for an autumn vaccination campaign, and if that does need to be with a new version of the vaccine,” Oxford vaccine developer Sarah Gilbert told lawmakers.

“Anything can happen, viruses are infinitely able to mutate, but currently I think the signs are good that we won’t see a sudden escape from the vaccine with a virus that is very well able to circulate.”

Britain has the fifth highest number of COVID-19 deaths globally, at over 120,000, and has reported more than 4 million cases. It has given nearly 18 million people a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, around a third of its adult population.

Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Estelle Shirbon and Andrew Cawthorne