The government has published a report highlighting the work and achievements of its Vaccines Taskforce (VTF), 6 months after it was set up to help in the fight against COVID-19.
The independent review by Sir Richard Sykes, chair of the Royal Institution and former chair Imperial College Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, found the VTF acted decisively and at great pace in the face of the pandemic, to secure access to 357 million doses of the most promising COVID-19 vaccines for the UK.
The report found the successes of the VTF have been achieved through the expertise of its members, who operated with agility to put the UK ahead at the forefront of global efforts to tackle COVID-19. Key successes include the creation of the world’s first citizen registry of over 360,000 volunteers able to rapidly join vaccine trials, the pioneering of human challenge studies to accelerate future vaccine development and strategic investment to enhance the UK’s vaccine research and manufacturing infrastructure, including flexible manufacturing capability at sites at Harwell, Braintree and Livingston.
The VTF was established in April 2020 by the government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, to drive forward, expedite and co-ordinate efforts to ensure the UK population would have access to a clinically safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19. Kate Bingham was appointed in May 2020 as Chair of the VTF, reporting directly to the Prime Minister and working under the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
In addition to securing access to vaccines, the VTF set out to establish a long-term vaccine strategy to prepare the UK for future pandemics and work with partners to support equitable access to vaccines for people worldwide, whether rich or poor.
The outgoing chair of the Vaccines Taskforce, Kate Bingham said: “Thanks to the mandate we were given by the Prime Minister, the Taskforce was able to rapidly strike deals for promising vaccines. Our aim was to ensure that the search for COVID-19 vaccines yielded positive results for the UK and the world. In doing so, we have cemented the UK’s global leadership in vaccine research, established much stronger manufacturing capability and clinical development capacity, ensuring we are much better prepared if, and when future pandemics arise.
“I am delighted that the skill and nimbleness of the Taskforce has enabled us to secure millions of doses of the first vaccine conditionally approved by the MHRA and that the British public are now starting to be protected with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.”
Bingham’s tenure as chair of the Vaccines Taskforce is due to conclude this month, as agreed when she was appointed earlier this year. Clive Dix, current deputy chair, will step into the role of interim chair of the VTFfollowing her departure.
The interim chair of the Vaccines Taskforce, Clive Dix said: “The UK is now prepared to start dealing with COVID-19 with the first vaccines to prevent the disease. Although this is a huge success, there is more for us to do. We must continue to develop our research and response capabilities in the UK and finish the task of building an infrastructure to enable us to manufacture vaccines at scale.”
In less than 6 months, the VTF has built a portfolio of 7 different vaccines from more than 240 vaccines in development across 4 different formats: adenoviral vectors, mRNA, adjuvanted proteins, and whole inactivated viral vaccines. This includes 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, 100 million doses of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine and 7 million doses of the Moderna vaccine.
The UK has also committed up to £548 million to the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (Covax). It will deliver vaccines for the UK population and provide access to vaccines for lower income countries.