Health and Science

UK aims to roll out coronavirus vaccine for 30 million Britons by September

In this picture taken on April 29, 2020, an engineer works at the Quality Control Laboratory on an experimental vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus at the Sinovac Biotech facilities in Beijing.
Nicolas Asfouri | AFP | Getty Images

The U.K. could roll out 30 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine as early as September, according to the British government.

In an announcement on Sunday, the government said the U.K. would be the first country to be given access to a vaccine being developed at Oxford University, should it prove successful in clinical trials.

The university announced in April that it had entered a licensing agreement with AstraZeneca, which would see the pharmaceutical giant manufacture and distribute the vaccine globally.

At the time, AstraZeneca said researchers at the Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group would know by July whether their vaccine – which began human trials on April 24 – was effective in preventing Covid-19 infections.

AstraZeneca teams up with Oxford University to develop vaccine
AstraZeneca teams up with Oxford University to develop vaccine

Most experts agree that it would take between 12 to 18 months for a safe-to-use vaccine to be rolled out to the market.

U.K. Business Secretary Alok Sharma unveiled £65.5 million ($79 million) in fresh government funding for the project on Sunday, with the government announcing that AstraZeneca would work to make up to 30 million doses of the vaccine available for people in the U.K. by September if trials were successful.

The September roll out would come as part of an agreement with AstraZeneca to deliver 100 million doses in total across Britain.

Equitable access

Some countries have voiced concerns that research around Covid-19 vaccines and treatments could develop into an international arms race.

Kirill Dmitriev, the CEO of Russia's sovereign wealth fund, told CNBC last week that "some countries see it as an arms race," adding that the development of any potential treatment should be internationally collaborative.

Meanwhile, an official from Germany's health authority said developing a vaccine was an international effort and no country should get preferential access to an effective inoculation.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Thursday that equal access to any vaccine was "non-negotiable," after Paul Hudson, CEO of French pharma firm Sanofi, told Bloomberg the U.S. had the biggest right to pre-order its potential vaccine because the country was "invested in taking the risk."

Experts have warned that even if an effective vaccine becomes available, significant logistical challenges will remain around distributing enough doses for the global population.

In a statement on Sunday, AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said the company was working to establish parallel supply agreements with other nations and multilateral organizations "to ensure fair and equitable access around the world."

A spokesman for the company told CNBC on Monday that AstraZeneca was working with a number of partners to establish a supply chain "in record time," which would allow the firm to distribute the vaccine globally at no profit for the duration of the pandemic.

"We will make every effort we can to deliver these doses while at the same time working on parallel supply chains to supply the rest of the world," he said.

Phase three clinical trials of Oxford's vaccine are set to begin in the U.K. at the end of May, with results expected by late summer – but AstraZeneca's spokesman emphasized that the vaccine's success could not be guaranteed.

"We are hopeful that it will be safe and effective, but we need to wait for the results of the clinical trial program," he said.

"Development of a vaccine can take many years and we are trying to do this in less than nine months. This is a massive and complex effort to develop the vaccine at speed and scale production to hundreds of millions of doses in record time."