The UK Government has ordered 65m syringes from one manufacturer as part of preparations for a potential Covid-19 vaccine, due for delivery by mid-September.
The Government told Healthcare Leader’s sister publication, Pulse, it was taking ‘necessary steps’ to ensure it was in the ‘best position’ once a ‘safe and effective coronavirus vaccine becomes available’.
It comes as health secretary Matt Hancock told the National Pharmacy Association conference yesterday that the Government is ‘working hard’ on a Covid vaccination programme, to run alongside the ‘biggest flu vaccination programme in history’.
Medical technology company BD, which has received the syringe order, said a Covid-19 vaccine was unlikely to come ready to be delivered in pre-filled syringes due to the accelerated speed with which the vaccination programme needs to be rolled out.
Instead, it would expect it to come in single or multidose vials, requiring separate syringes to administer the vaccine to patients.
Earlier during the pandemic, AstraZeneca enterered into a global licensing agreement with the University of Oxford, which is undertaking an expedited programme of developing a Covid-19 vaccine funded by a £65.5m investment from the UK Government.
The Government has also provided £18.5m to Imperial College London towards vaccine trials.
In May, the Government announced it had reached a deal with AstraZeneca to make up to 30m doses of the Oxford vaccine available by September for the UK, as part of an agreement to deliver 100m doses in total, should it prove safe and effective.
But clinicians suggested to Pulse that the syringe order was a ‘gamble’ on the Government’s part, as there are currently around 170 potential Covid-19 vaccines in development across the world – and no one knows which of these, if any, will prove successful.
Professor Azeem Majeed, head of Imperial College London’s Department of Primary Care and Public Health, said: ‘It’s a gamble, because there’s not yet an actual vaccine – tested, shown to be safe, or produced on scale.
‘I imagine the Government felt they had to make the order now, or else they would be in a queue. Recently, the Government has also rushed into deals with PPE and antibody tests, only for it to transpire that they weren’t that useful.’
Kent LMC medical secretary Dr John Allingham said: ‘Whoever placed the order knows the devices are going to be compatible with a vaccine for which there are several candidates in development. This is remarkable insight. Will the vaccine be intramuscular or subcutaneous, and what volume will be needed? Have they ordered an adaptable device that can cover all bases?’
BD told Pulse that the specific vaccination device ordered by the Government is a syringe with an integrated needle which is ‘dose sparing’, thus ‘generating less waste’.
A Government spokesperson told Pulse: ‘The Government is taking the necessary steps to ensure the UK is in the best position once a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine becomes available and is engaging with a wide range of companies through the Vaccines Taskforce’.
The spokesperson also highligted the agreement the Government has reached with AstraZeneca.
BD UK and Ireland vice president and general manager Mike Fairbourn said: ‘With a 60-year history in vaccine delivery, BD is committed to producing 65m high-quality vaccine injection devices to support the UK in planning for a Covid-19 vaccination campaign.
BD applauds the UK Government for its forward-thinking and coordinated approach in planning for future Covid-19 needs. This device selection will help ensure the maximum number of UK citizens get inoculated in the fastest possible timeframe.’
Interim advice developed on behalf of the Government by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has said frontline health and care staff should be prioritised for vaccination against Covid-19, due to their increased risk of being exposed to coronavirus and transmitting it to patients.