Will Britain still get its Indian-made AstraZeneca vaccines? Scientist says it would be ‘ethically dubious’ for UK to lay claim to the 5million delayed doses now the nation is in crisis
- EXCLUSIVE: Dr Simon Clarke says it would be wrong for UK to take India’s jabs
- Jabs made at the Serum Institute of India were blocked from leaving the country
- India is in the height of its epidemic with thousands now dying each day
Britain accepting its delayed order of five million Indian-made doses of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine would now be ‘ethically dubious’, a scientist said today.
Vaccines ordered by the UK from the Serum Institute of India were blocked from leaving the country in order to prioritise India’s own rollout at the end of March.
The delivery was originally supposed to arrive in Britain on March 18 before being postponed five weeks to April 15, and it is understood the doses still haven’t been shipped.
India is now in the grips of a raging second wave with hundreds of thousands of people getting infected each day and even some of the country’s best hospitals running out of oxygen – experts have dubbed it a humanitarian crisis.
Given the devastating situation in the South Asian nation, Reading University microbiologist Dr Simon Clarke, said it would be wrong to accept vaccines made there.
The University of Reading professor told MailOnline: ‘Politically, it’s highly likely the Indian government won’t let them out and it would be ethically highly dubious for us to accept them.
‘What we would be doing is saving those least likely to get ill at the expense of people who would otherwise die.’
Hospitals are overloaded in India as hundreds of thousands of people test positive for coronavirus every day. Even some of the country’s best medical centres have started to run out of oxygen (Pictured: People wait on stretchers outside a hospital in New Delhi)
India has discovered a new variant of coronavirus that has come at the same time as a massive surge in infections, although it is not clear if the mutated strain spreads faster (Pictured: People queue outside a Covid test centre in Uttar Pradesh)
The initial delivery disruption meant the UK had to temper hopes of rattling through its vaccination programme ahead of schedule and focus on giving second doses in April – four out of five jabs being given at the moment are booster jabs.
Britain has enough AstraZeneca vaccines stockpiled or being made in the UK to hit its target of vaccinating all adults by the end of July, but ministers had hoped they could go faster.
There are now, however, far fewer doses available for first-time patients.
The UK can take solace in the fact that coronavirus cases, hospital admissions and deaths are now back to levels last seen before the second wave.
But in India, the situation is worse than it has ever been. Doctors are being forced to turn Covid patients away and yesterday saw another record-breaking rise in cases and deaths.
According to the World Health Organization another 332,730 people were diagnosed with the virus yesterday – three million have tested positive in just two weeks.
Along with its commitment to the UK, the Serum Insitute manufactures AstraZeneca jabs for the Covax program — a 1.1billion-jab project to vaccinate the world’s developing nations — and for India itself.
Dr Clarke said he thought it unlikely the UK would be seeing its missing order any time soon.
He added that because the UK has offered the vaccine to all over-50s, NHS staff, carers and the clinically vulnerable, the order would be better used in India where daily deaths are still in their thousands.
‘We have enough doses to give second doses to people who have already had Oxford-AstraZeneca and should have enough Pfizer and Moderna jabs for people right down into their early twenties.
‘Frankly if the situation continues to be good in the UK, pushing the delivery back even by a couple of weeks would be the ethical thing to do given the toll it’s taking in India.’
India’s daily infections hit 332,730 today, up from 314,835 on Thursday when India surpassed a grim record set by the United States in January.
Delhi reported more than 26,000 new cases and 306 deaths, or about one fatality every five minutes, the fastest since the pandemic began.
Doctors in the city of 29million have no more beds left and police have been deployed around hospitals to prevent oxygen from being looted as infections stand at more than treble their peak last year.
Sky News captured images of dozens of people lying on stretchers outside one overcrowded hospital in the capital. In the minutes of the short live report, at least three dead bodies were seen being wheeled out of the front doors of the medical centre.
DO WE HAVE ENOUGH JAB STOCKS TO REACH UNDER-50s?
Government sources told The Times the NHS will ‘ease into’ the next age groups in spite of supply shortages.
Delays to a delivery of five million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine expected from India threw a spanner in the works of the UK’s rollout last month.
And Pfizer’s jab has been used up so quickly that first-dose appointments were halted in March so supplies could be preserved for giving people their second jabs.
The vaccination programme peaked at an average of 500,000 new patients every day in mid-March but has now slumped to around 83,000 per day as stocks are going through a bottleneck and the demand for second doses is higher.
There are now around five times as many people getting second doses as first jabs, with a record 475,230 given out on Saturday, April 10.
The addition of a third vaccine to the UK’s clinics – made by Moderna – will help the NHS to get through younger age groups but is not expected in huge numbers.
Moderna’s jab will be given out in England this week for the first time, but supplies are expected to trickle in at only around 160,000 doses a week, according to leaked plans from the Scottish Government in January.
And the UK has only bought 17million – enough to vaccinate 8.5million people with two jabs each.
A fourth vaccine could become part of the programme soon, too, with approval for Janssen’s one-shot vaccine expected from the British regulator within days. Supplies may not come until summer, though.
The UK is understood to still be using AstraZeneca’s vaccine for its limited first doses and Moderna’s jab will add to this, with more becoming available in the following weeks.
The Department of Health continues to refuse to comment on the technicalities of the rollout or supply chains, but hinted plans it would move on were correct.
A spokesperson said: ‘Our vaccination programme continues at pace – with over 32million people having now received a first dose.
‘Our target is to offer a jab to over 50s by 15 April and all adults by the end of July, and we are on course to meet that.
‘We will be setting out more details later this week.’
But while northern states like Gujurat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are experiencing coronavirus infection rates which are more than quadruple what they were in the first wave, others to the south, like Andrha Pradesh, and in the far northeast, like Assam, have not yet experienced a second wave and aren’t under lockdown rules.
This suggests that though the overall numbers for India are colossal, they could still climb higher, putting further strain on the country’s overwhelmed healthcare system which is running short of basic anti-viral medications.
Britain banned travel from India today amid fears that a new variant is causing the virus to spread faster and hitting young people harder.
The Serum Institute has delayed increases to its monthly output up from 60million to 100million until July.
The factory previously set a timeline timeline of the end of May, Mr Poonawalla told CNBC-TV18.
He said: ‘We were supposed to export [our vaccines] and get the funding from export countries, but now that that is not happening, we have to find other innovative ways to build our capacity.
‘We are prioritising the needs of India at the moment, and we are still short of being able to supply every Indian that needs it.’
Earlier this month, Matt Hancock claimed the Covid vaccine roll-out will expand to everyone in their forties ‘in line with supplies’, leaving millions of adults left to guess about when they will be invited.
England’s campaign was today officially expanded to all over-45s after No10 hit its other vaccination milestone three days ahead of schedule, with everyone in the top nine priority groups now invited for their first Covid jab.
But with a supply shortage of AstraZeneca forcing the NHS to focus on second doses, ministers haven’t been able to widen the scheme to those under 45.
The Health Secretary gave no further details, telling MPs that Number 10 was ‘on track’ to deliver on its ambitious promise of inviting every adult for their first vaccine by the end of July.
NHS bosses warned the number of first-time appointments would plummet this month because of the delayed shipment from Serum and the need to focus on top-up jabs. Deliveries of Pfizer’s jab are currently being rationed for second doses.
But with supplies of Moderna’s vaccine finally coming on stream in England today, officials have expanded the roll-out to over-45s.
Only 20 sites will get supplies of the US firm’s jab this week, with deliveries trickling in at around 150,000 a week.
Department of Health bosses suggested the roll-out would be slow, saying the rest of the 40-49 age bracket would receive texts inviting them to book an appointment in the ‘coming weeks and months’.
Ministers have bought 17million doses of the vaccine, which is the third to be added to the NHS’ ‘armoury’. Moderna’s jab — as well as leftover supplies of AstraZeneca and Pfizer that haven’t already been reserved — will be used in the next phase of the roll-out.
Boris Johnson today claimed No10 was ‘very confident’ about supplies and reiterated that April was ‘always going to be the second dose month’. The Prime Minister also hailed the ‘hugely significant milestone’ of offering jabs to everyone in phase one.
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