Experts are particularly critical of the April sale of the Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre, a £200 million government-funded center that aimed to combine vaccine production and research in one place.
The government said this was necessary to keep the site open, and the acquisition by Catalent Biotherapeutics will “strengthen” the life sciences industry — much like Moderna’s decision to build an mRNA vaccine plant in Britain, with nearly £400 million UK funding.
But Professor Rebecca Glover, an assistant professor of infectious disease policy at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, called the sale “short-sighted.”
“Dismantling key long-term preparedness infrastructure like the VMIC makes little economic or public health sense,” she said, adding that it gives the government less flexibility to respond to new threats.
Industry insiders are also concerned that there are gaps in the UK’s ability to manufacture new drugs, especially antibody treatments, and that we have not brought scientific and commercial expertise to Whitehall.
Outbreaks ‘more likely’ than military invasion
Over the summer, Kate Bingham, who headed Britain’s vaccine task force, told the Guardian she would not be returning to the role in another pandemic because the government “shouldn’t try to get people from outside to help out.” “.
Prof Bell said he had hoped the pandemic would prompt the UK to treat health security more as a threat to national security, with a clear central command responsible for coordinating any response – mainly because it is “more likely” is a military invasion.
“The government has still not operationalized the response to pandemic threats – if the Russians attacked us, we would turn to the armed forces. Where is the equivalent for pathogens? Governments are increasingly dropping pandemic planning off the priority list, which is a mistake,” he said.
Adam Bradshaw, a public health analyst at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, added: “Health security is national security. That means you can make your own medical products – be it vaccines, personal protective equipment or pharmaceuticals. It’s a small investment now for a huge payoff in the future.”
He said the cuts to both the UK Health Security Agency and the international aid budget have also hit investment in scientific initiatives around the world, including disease surveillance. Britain was a major mainstay of a “pandemic radar” on the G7.
“The great lack of funding leaves a big hole,” said Mr Bradshaw. “Two years ago everyone said we would never underinvest again…that promise has been broken.”
‘It’s our Achilles heel’
Experts are also concerned that the NHS is in a more vulnerable state than when Covid emerged in early 2020. three months.
“It’s our Achilles heel,” said Prof. Bell. “If we were attacked by a really nasty virus, or a virus with a 30-40 percent death rate, the health system wouldn’t be able to handle it.
“Normally I’m optimistic, I don’t want to be a doomsayer. But I think people should be aware that the pandemic that we just went through – which has had a lot of suffering and a very high death toll – wasn’t that bad in terms of pathogens,” said Prof. Bell.
He added that he thought the UK is better prepared in terms of testing infrastructure – and it was good to roll back when the acute risk subsided.
Disease surveillance and vaccine development are also strengths, while the UKHSA identified several initiatives – including the National Variant Assessment Platform and the new Center for Pandemic Preparedness – as key developments.
The first phase of the Covid inquiry, chaired by Baroness Heather Hallett, will begin in London on Tuesday, after being postponed for two weeks due to the Queen’s death. The hearing is largely procedural and public hearings will not begin until spring 2023. The first phase will examine Britain’s preparedness and response to a pandemic.
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