Vaccine Taskforce

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Leaflets and other programme materials, early 2021

The Vaccine Taskforce in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was set up in April 2020 by the Second Johnson ministry, in collaboration with Chief Scientific Advisor Patrick Vallance and Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty, in order to facilitate the path towards the introduction of a COVID-19 vaccine in the UK and its global distribution.[1] The taskforce acts to coordinate the research efforts of government with industry, academics and funding agencies in order to be able to make timely decisions which expedite vaccine development and deployment.[2][3]

The minister responsible for the body is the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, although the body is a joint unit of the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Oversight is by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment, and in November 2020 the first person to take this role was Nadhim Zahawi MP.

History

The body was set up in April 2020 by the Government's Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance.[4]

On 16 May 2020, venture capitalist Kate Bingham was named to chair the body.[1] On 1 July, Bingham told the Science and Technology Select Committee that Sarah Gilbert and "Oxford University (are) leading the world in developing a vaccine against COVID-19 and offers the best chance of having something protective against the virus as we go into winter."[5]

On 12 September, it came to light that Sir John Bell was a member of the body.[6]

On 14 October, the chair managed public expectation by stating that a vaccine for COVID-19 was expected to be no more efficacious than the flu vaccine, which immunises against the influenza virus with around 50 per cent success. Bingham added: "We shouldn't assume it's going to be better than a flu vaccine, because that's an equivalent – it's a mutating … respiratory virus that gets in through the nose and eyes and respiratory tract".[7]

Speaking to BBC Scotland's The Seven on 17 October, Bingham said that the government would have to arrive at an agreement with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) as to how any COVID-19 vaccine should be distributed; the staff of care homes and the elderly are likely to be prioritised. She stated that initially there would be a limited supply any COVID-19 vaccine.[8]

On 18 October 2020, SAGE committee member, Sir Jeremy Farrar, commented on Sophy Ridge On Sunday that the Vaccine Taskforce "has done an absolutely extraordinary job" and the country is in an "extraordinarily strong position" with regard to the line-up of possible vaccines.[9]

A government press release of 20 October shed further light on the initial formation of the taskforce, stating that it was created under the auspices of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in May 2020.[10] Nadhim Zahawi was appointed to the new role of Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment on 28 November 2020, with responsibility for the taskforce.[11] On 1 March 2021, ministerial responsibility transferred from BEIS to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and the taskforce became a joint unit of BEIS and the Department of Health and Social Care.[12]

On 14 June 2021, Sir Richard Sykes was appointed chair of the Vaccine Taskforce.[13]

Steering group

In June 2021, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy confirmed in response to a Freedom of Information Act request that the taskforce's formal steering group had been disbanded, with the taskforce now being managed by a senior leadership team of civil servants and experts, with Sir Richard Sykes as its external chair.[14]

Former membership

Until November 2020, the membership of the taskforce was unknown. A Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the membership was responded to with three pages of redacted names.[15] As of that month, the steering group was made up of:[16]

Developments

On 20 October 2020, the Financial Times reported that potential COVID-19 vaccines would be selected for testing by the taskforce towards the end of the first quarter of 2021, but this was dependent on the outcome of "characterisation studies".[17] The article also mentioned funding of £33.6 million being provided by government to accelerate the development of new COVID-19 vaccines by exposing human trial participants to the coronavirus in controlled conditions around 30 days after having received a shortlisted vaccine. The work of the taskforce was bolstered by a further tranche of £19.7 million in funding for clinical trial-related blood testing facilities at Public Health England, specifically at PHE Porton Down.[18]

On 22 October, Oxford Immunotec announced that the company had been chosen by the taskforce to be the unique supplier of T cell testing for SARS-Cov-2. The move was underscored with a £3 million investment, as the Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, emphasised the importance of T cell diagnostic capabilities in assessing the performance of candidate vaccines within COVID-19 vaccine trials.[19]

On 27 October 2020, an article by Bingham was published in The Lancet. It highlighted the taskforce's overall strategy of a diverse portfolio of vaccines, with an emphasis on those thought capable of achieving an immune response in the over-65s. From an initial pool of 240 potential vaccines, the taskforce selected six candidates which employ four varied methods: adenoviral vectors, mRNA, adjuvanted proteins, and whole inactivated viral vaccines. The article also revealed that Clive Dix was the taskforce's deputy chair.[20] It was reported the following day that Bingham had warned in the Lancet article that first-generation COVID-19 vaccines would probably not be perfect, and would only lessen symptoms rather than prevent infection and that they "might not work for everyone or for long".[21]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b "Kate Bingham appointed chair of UK Vaccine Taskforce". GOV.UK OGL v3.0. 16 May 2020.
  2. ^ "Government launches Vaccine Taskforce to combat coronavirus". gov.uk. 17 April 2020. Retrieved 6 October 2020.
  3. ^ Vaccine Taskforce Aims (PDF) (Report). www.gov.uk. 6 April 2020. p. 1. Retrieved 6 October 2020. Currently there is work going on across government but it is not sufficiently coordinated. The taskforce will bring together government, industry, academics, funding agencies, regulators, logistics and finance to make rapid decisions to put the UK in a position to accelerate vaccine development and vaccinate the right proportion of the population as soon as possible after a vaccine is available.
  4. ^ https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-government-vaccines-taskforce-vtf-2020-achievements-and-future-strategy
  5. ^ Boseley, Sarah (1 July 2020). "Oxford offers best hope for Covid-19 vaccine this year, MPs told". Guardian News & Media Limited.
  6. ^ Boland, Hannah (12 September 2020). "Oxford's Sir John Bell: 'We're not going to beat the second wave'". Telegraph Media Group Limited. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022.
  7. ^ "Coronavirus vaccine will be only 50pc effective, warns head of UK taskforce". The Telegraph. London. 14 October 2020. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  8. ^ Sandhu, Rajdeep (17 October 2020). "Covid-19: Most vulnerable 'could get vaccine by Christmas'". BBC Scotland. Retrieved 18 October 2020.
  9. ^ Hayes, Andy (18 October 2020). "Coronavirus: 'More than one vaccine' will be available early in 2021, SAGE scientist says". Sky News. Retrieved 18 October 2020.
  10. ^ "Expert partnership to explore and establish Human Challenge studies of COVID-19 in the UK" (Press release). London. www.gov.uk. 20 October 2020. Retrieved 24 October 2020.
  11. ^ "Nadhim Zahawi MP". GOV.UK. Retrieved 2 March 2021.
  12. ^ "Update on the Vaccine Taskforce: 1 March 2021". GOV.UK. 1 March 2021. Retrieved 2 March 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  13. ^ "Sir Richard Sykes appointed chair of Vaccine Taskforce". GOV.UK. 14 June 2021. Retrieved 15 June 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  14. ^ "UK Vaccine Taskforce steering group - a Freedom of Information request to Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy". WhatDoTheyKnow. 15 June 2021. Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  15. ^ Pogrund, Gabriel (7 November 2020). "Vaccine tsar Kate Bingham runs up £670,000 PR bill". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  16. ^ "VTF objectives and membership of the steering group". GOV.UK. Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. 24 November 2020. Retrieved 15 June 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  17. ^ Cookson, Clive (20 October 2020). "Volunteers to be infected with coronavirus in world's first 'human challenge' trials". The Financial Times. London. Retrieved 24 October 2020.
  18. ^ "Expert partnership to explore and establish Human Challenge studies of COVID-19 in the UK" (Press release). London. www.gov.uk. 20 October 2020. Retrieved 24 October 2020. Innovation Minister Lord Bethell said: "This investment into new facilities at PHE Porton Down will enable its dedicated and expert scientists to accelerate the pace and scale of specialised testing to support the critical work of the Vaccine Taskforce."
  19. ^ "UK Vaccines Taskforce has Selected Oxford Immunotec as the Sole Supplier of T cell Testing for SARS-CoV-2 Specific Responses in New COVID Vaccine Trials" (Press release). Oxford. Globe Newswire. 22 October 2020. Retrieved 22 October 2020.
  20. ^ Bingham, Kate (27 October 2020). "The UK Government's Vaccine Taskforce: strategy for protecting the UK and the world". The Lancet. 397 (10268): 68–70. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)32175-9. PMC 7833709. PMID 33125932. S2CID 225080217.
  21. ^ "Coronavirus vaccine taskforce chair says first COVID vaccines 'likely to be imperfect' and 'might not prevent infection'". Sky News. 28 October 2020. Retrieved 28 October 2020.
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