UK 'may stop giving Pfizer vaccine to new patients' as supply slumps

Britain may have to STOP giving new patients Pfizer’s Covid vaccine as experts warn of ‘very worrying gap’ between the number of people vaccinated and speed of second dose supplies

  • 12.8million people have already had a first Pfizer Covid jab and will  require a second dose from April
  • No10 is already more than halfway through what it expects to get from the company by the start of June  
  • Experts say Britain will have to ration first doses of the vaccine to get through the backlog of second doses

Britain may have to start rationing Pfizer’s Covid vaccine imminently so it can stockpile second doses with the NHS today warning there will be a ‘significant reduction’ in supplies in April. 

No10 has only bought 40million doses of the jab – but is not expecting all of its supply until the end of 2021, with deliveries set to trickle in over the course of the year.

And MailOnline understands ministers are expecting fewer doses of Pfizer’s vaccine from April. Leaked documents of Scotland’s vaccine delivery schedule also suggest there will be a reduced supply from next month.

With questions over how much vaccine is expected in the coming weeks, NHS bosses will inevitably have to reserve spring supplies to ensure older Britons get their top-up jab within 12 weeks as promised.

Data suggests 13million Britons have already been given Pfizer’s jab, which uses up more than half of what ministers originally planned to receive by the start of June, which will mark six months after the UK began dishing it out.

Officials factor second doses into their delivery patterns, with supplies reserved for Britons due a top-up jab. But one-for-one stockpiles are not kept on British soil – they are managed on a ‘rolling basis’.

Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at Reading University, told MailOnline: ‘We may be getting to the point where they basically stop giving it out as a first dose.’

And James Lawson, of the Adam Smith Institute think-tank, said there appears to be a ‘very worrying gap’ between the number of people vaccinated already and the speed that second dose supplies are coming. 

It came as the EU today declared vaccine war on the UK, threatening to block exports of Pfizer’s jab – which is mainly manufactured in Belgium. 

On another day of coronavirus vaccine chaos:

  • Doctors claimed British patients were cancelling appointments for their coronavirus vaccine because the EU’s mass revolt against AstraZeneca’s jab over unproven blood clot fears has scared them off;
  • Boris Johnson revealed he will be getting the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine ‘very shortly’;
  • Britain has now vaccinated more than 25million people, meaning almost half of the adult population have had their first dose – while England today began inviting over-50s for their jabs
  • Dominic Cummings launched a devastating attack on Matt Hancock, insisting the UK’s vaccine drive was only a success because he and science chief Patrick Vallance insisted the minister was stripped of control;
  • Britons planning foreign holidays abroad are pushing them back again until after the May half-term amid mounting concerns over the coronavirus vaccine rollout and rising cases in the European Union.

Britain will soon have to stop giving the Pfizer Covid vaccine to new patients so it can stockpile enough to get through huge demand for second doses in April and May 

Experts have told MailOnline the UK’s entire supply of Pfizer’s vaccine may be required to meet the need for 12.8million second doses over the next three months, with projected supply from the company dropping at the start of April.

This could dent the Government’s aim of dishing out at least one dose to all adults in the UK by the end of July and make the country more reliant on Oxford and AstraZeneca’s vaccine to get through the younger age groups. 

Moderna’s vaccine will also start being delivered to the UK next month, with 17million doses ordered by the Government, but numbers are expected to be low by comparison.

HOW BADLY WOULD UK’S VACCINE DRIVE SUFFER IF THE EU BLOCKED VACCINE EXPORTS?

If the European Union blocked all exports of coronavirus vaccines made on its turf, Britain could remain self-sufficient and still get jabs to the entire population.

However, it could come under pressure on second dose supply.

EU president Ursula von der Leyen suggested today that the bloc could start an export ban on vaccines – the second time that threat has been made – because the continent’s rollout is going so badly. 

WHICH VACCINES ARE MADE IN THE EU? 

The Pfizer/BioNTech jab is currently the only vaccine used in the UK but manufactured in the EU, at the company’s plant in Puurs, Belgium.

AstraZeneca’s jab is made at home in England and Wales.

Moderna’s – which will become available in about two weeks’ time at the start of April – is produced in Switzerland, which is not an EU member and so not under von der Leyen’s jurisdiction.

The Janssen vaccine, which has not yet been approved by Britain but is likely to be next, will be made in various factories around the world, including in France, Belgium, the US and Japan. Britain’s supply is likely to come from the EU but is not expected until the second half of this year in any case.

CAN WE RELY ON ASTRAZENECA? 

The good news is that the UK has ordered so many doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab – 100million – that in a worst-case scenario it could immunise the entire adult population (around 50million people) using that one alone.

And supply of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab in April and May will be around three to four times larger than of Pfizer and over 20 times as large as those from Moderna – at around three to four million available per week, according to a delivery schedule leaked by the Scottish Government in January – meaning the country will be able to rely on those for the vast majority of its vaccinations.

WHAT ABOUT PFIZER SECOND DOSES? 

The bad news is that around 13million people have already had at least one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and the majority of them are still waiting for a second jab, which are likely only to come from within the EU.

This means that Britain has to have another 13million doses at least, in order to make sure those people are fully protected. 

And it also hopes for another 14million so it can immunise the total 20million for whom doses were ordered. 

Pfizer and the UK Government have both refused to comment on the supply chain but deliveries are expected to be smaller in April.

The Department of Health may have to stop using Pfizer supplies for first-time vaccinations within weeks if the spectre of export issues remains, MailOnline understands, because it must begin to stockpile supplies to cope with the huge demand for second doses that will come in April, three months after the rollout exploded in January.

The delivery projections accidentally published by the Scottish Government suggest its supplies of Pfizer will tumble from 130,000 per week throughout March to just 78,000 per week in April and May.

This could equate to approximately 1.5million per week for the whole UK dropping to 950,000 per week, according to the distribution formula used by the Government. 

The UK vaccinated more than 2.5million people per week throughout most of January and February and around half of all doses used were Pfizer, meaning the demand for second doses could exceed one million per week in April and May.

If this is the case the Government will have to use all of the projected 950,000 per week suggested in the Scottish delivery schedule while also hoping it has enough left over to meet this rolling demand – leaving little to no capacity for people to receive the Pfizer jab for the first time.

Pfizer declined to comment on its supply chain but said: ‘In the UK, we are continuing to liaise closely with the Government to deliver the 40million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that we have committed to supply before the end of the year and can confirm that overall projected supply remains the same for quarter one (January to March).’

The Government refuses to comment on its vaccine supply chain, saying only that it is ‘lumpy’. 

And Pfizer will not reveal how many jabs it has already supplied but told MailOnline it is ‘on track’ to reach its target by the end of the year and to hit its commitments for the beginning of the year. 

It said its ‘overall projected supply remains the same for quarter one’, from January to March, but did not confirm what this supply was or when the full-year target of 40million was likely to be delivered on. 

BioNTech, the German firm that produces the vaccine alongside US-based Pfizer, has had to scramble a group of 13 rival manufacturers in order to ramp up capacity to two billion doses by the end of the year.

Countries in the European Union have been struggling with lulls in supply as a result of not ordering and approving vaccines as quickly as the UK and US.  

The MHRA said an estimated 10.7million first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had been dished out by February 28, compared to 9.7million of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.

If the same 54/46 per cent split is still being used, it would suggest the Pfizer figure now stands at 12.8million.

The Government will have to set aside the same number again to ensure it has enough second doses and it has also given out around more than 800,000 second doses of the vaccine.

That would therefore mean at least 13.6million jabs must have already been shipped to the UK from Pfizer’s only factory in Belgium, with 26.4million required over the rest of year.

But projected supply of the company’s vaccine is expected to fall from the week beginning April 4.

Leaked Scottish documents show the weekly projected supply of Pfizer vaccines would fall from 130,982 to 78,755 in the week, before falling again to 77,926 in the week beginning May 2.

Scaled up for the whole UK – using the formula applied by the Department of Health, in which Scotland accounts for 8 per cent of the total – the supply would drop from around 1.4million per week to 848,000 on April 4, and down to 839,000 on May 2.

Experts have warned that Britain will have to effectively stop giving the Pfizer vaccine first doses as supply is choked.

Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor at the University of Reading, said the numbers suggested that ministers would have to start hoarding the Pfizer vaccine and not offering it as a first dose.

‘They could effectively stop giving out the Pfizer vaccine now,’ he told MailOnline. 

‘We may be getting to the point where they basically stop giving it out as a first dose.’

He added ministers have failed to address the question of whether we can safely give out second doses of a different vaccine.

‘That might be absolutely fine,’ he said, ‘but we don’t know yet and it could be a dangerous assumption if it proves not to work or be less effective than suspected.

‘I initially thought when this whole vaccine programme started that they would make sure they had enough doses.’

James Lawson, a fellow at think-tank the Adam Smith Institute and lead author of a report named ‘Worth a shot: Accelerating Covid-19 vaccinations’, said the Scottish figures suggested there is a ‘very worrying gap’ between the number of people that have received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and the Pfizer supplies expected to be delivered.

‘This strongly implies there were more Pfizer doses coming in beforehand,’ he said after viewing the leaked roll-out figures for Scotland.

He urged Boris Johnson to ‘explore all diplomatic means necessary’ to ensure no disruption was triggered in the flow of vaccines.

‘I think they should explore all options available including speaking to our allies in the US and getting faster vaccine supplies.

‘We should be willing to pay above the odds if necessary to get the vaccines to the UK as fast as possible. 

‘The cost of lockdowns and the cost of lockdown pressure on the NHS and wider economy is so high that we can justify paying almost any price for vaccines.’

He added that the UK should also look to add new jabs to its roll-out. ‘We were promised Moderna’s vaccine by the spring,’ he said, ‘but that starts in three days’ time so where are those supplies? We should get those as fast as possible.

‘We should also look to accelerate the processes for Novavax and Johnson and Johnson vaccines that have been getting really good results in trials. That would mean we have five different suppliers in different supply chains in different factories.’

It comes as people who received a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in the UK have said they have been unable to secure a second dose so far.

Sheila Teasdale, from Manchester, wrote on Twitter: ‘Bit worrying that where l live people have reached the 12 week mark for their second jab and not being called for it.

‘Seems to be people who had the Pfizer. Is there a shortage of supplies we aren’t being told about?’

Today, she added: ‘Update from medical centre last night, saying [it is] pressing ahead with AstraZeneca jabs but [is having] problems getting supplies of Pfizer for second jabs.

‘Maybe if people were called before they reached 12 weeks instead of walk-ins getting spare doses, we wouldn’t be in this position. It’s worrying.’

Others say they have been unable to book a second appointment for a Pfizer jab, while those who received a first dose of AstraZeneca have already had their second dose. 

A Londoner said: ‘Apparently no-one in [my parents’] borough has got their second appointments.

‘They’ve been calling their GP everyday who say they don’t know anything but their friends have all received their second AstraZeneca dose.

‘Seems there’s a shortage of Pfizer second dose.’

And another Londoner from Lambeth said they have been unable to find a surgery offering the Pfizer vaccine as a first dose.

They said: ‘I rescheduled five times, each time I was told [it would be] AstraZeneca. In London there’s definitely a shortage of Pfizer.’

NHS England said that for every first dose of the Pfizer vaccine that has been given, second doses have been reserved.

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