Britain’s NHS says under-50s face delay of at least a month for vaccine

Raab accuses EU of acting like authoritarian regime with threat on vaccine export controls

Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) has told people under 50 that they will have to wait a month longer for their coronavirus vaccine because of a shortage later this month. NHS England warned that a “significant reduction in weekly supply available from manufacturers” would mean that new first doses would be delayed.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said the vaccine rollout would now focus on reaching everyone over 50 and people with underlying conditions.

“Now that we’ve opened up to the 50 and overs, and then we’re going to really focus on getting the vaccine to those who are the most vulnerable, and of course we have a whole load of second doses that we need to deliver,” he said.

Britain accused the European Union of acting like an authoritarian regime by threatening to introduce emergency controls on vaccine production and distribution. Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said such a move would cut across "direct assurances" Britain received from the European Commission and requires "some explaining" from the EU.


“We’ve, all of us, including with our European friends, been saying throughout the pandemic, that you’d be wrong to curtail or interfere with lawfully-contracted supply. We all said it last year on PPE. We’ve been saying it this year, on vaccines and other things.

"And it also cuts across the direct assurances that we had from the commission and indeed, which I followed up on this week and over the last few days, with [EU] vice-president [Josep] Borrell and vice-president [Valdis] Dombrovskis, and we were reliably informed that they weren't aware of any plans to restrict lawfully-contracted supply to the UK," he said during a visit to Washington.

“Frankly, I’m surprised we’re having this conversation. It is normally what the UK and EU team up with to reject when other countries with less than views democratic views than our own engage in that kind of brinkmanship.”

Boris Johnson's former chief of staff Dominic Cummings has called for an urgent inquiry into what went wrong in Britain during the coronavirus pandemic. Giving evidence to Westminster's science and technology committee, he said the vaccine rollout succeeded partly because it was not run by the health department, which oversaw the disastrous procurement of PPE.

“In spring 2020 you had a situation where the Department for Health was just a smoking ruin in terms of procurement and PPE and all of that, you had serious problems with the funding bureaucracy for therapeutics on Covid,” he said.

"It's not coincidental that the vaccine programme worked the way it did. It's not coincidental that to do that we had to take it out of the Department of Health. We had to have it authorised very directly by the prime minister and say strip away all the normal nonsense that we can see is holding back funding."

Mr Cummings left Downing Street last November after a power struggle among Mr Johnson’s advisers and Wednesday’s committee hearing in Parliament was the first time he has spoken about his role in government since his departure. He said that at the start of the pandemic, no entity within the British state could operate at the necessary scale and pace.

“As the country emerges from lockdown there should be an urgent, very, very hard look by this building at what went wrong and why in 2020,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times