Britain will not join an EU programme to procure a coronavirus vaccine if one is successfully developed, health secretary Matt Hancock has said.
Hancock said ministers had taken the decision after Brussels confirmed that the UK would have to abandon its own procurement efforts – which were reportedly at a more advanced stage – in order to take part. He told Times Radio:
We have chosen not to join the EU scheme on vaccine purchase. The reason is that it wouldn’t have allowed us to have a say in the vaccines that were procured, the price, the quantity, or the delivery schedule…
We are further ahead than the EU schemes are. We would have joined the EU scheme if they had allowed us also to continue with our own negotiations, but one of the conditions of the scheme was that we would have had to stop our own negotiations and only do them through the European Commission and we weren’t prepared to do that.
We think we will go faster this way.
Two leading vaccine development projects are in the UK
Hancock confirmed the UK was putting in contracts with vaccine developers around the world. And that the UK was engaging will all 10 of the development projects regarded as the frontrunners, including those at Oxford University and Imperial College London. He said:
We think that, because we are further ahead, actually the risk would have been to stop the UK procurements and instead be required to buy only through the European Commission route…
I think it is actually better to continue with the work that we have been doing, not least, because we have got two of the top candidates here domestically, countries around the world are keen to engage.
The decision not to join the EU programme was confirmed by Britain’s ambassador Tim Barrow in a letter to the European Commission. He said, however, that the UK was committed to strengthening its collaboration with the EU in other areas outside the vaccine procurement scheme. He added:
This could include sharing of information on promising vaccine candidates; negotiations with vaccine manufacturers; vaccine trials; manufacturing investment and capacity building; mitigations to supply chain bottlenecks and other delivery risks such as global trade disruptions.