When the Covid-19 pandemic started a year ago the UK had plenty of scientific expertise in vaccines but very little industrial capacity to make them. The country had just one significant production plant making flu vaccines in Liverpool.
Since then the UK has become a global leader in buying and distributing vaccines, which provide the best exit strategy from a pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 people in Britain and more than 2m worldwide.
The National Audit Office, the spending watchdog, expects the government to invest £11.7bn to develop, purchase, manufacture and deploy Covid-19 vaccines, including £6.2bn for vaccine procurement up to 2022-23.
The vaccines in the UK portfolio use four ways to introduce proteins from the Sars-Cov-2 virus into the body, where they trigger a response by the immune system.
Two — mRNA and adenovirus vaccines — transfer genetic instructions for human cells to make viral proteins. The other two transfer proteins directly, either in “subunit” fragments or as whole, inactivated virus.
The UK government was swift to secure deals from a number of manufacturers, to reduce reliance on any one provider. The UK has so far secured access to 367m doses from seven suppliers.
With three vaccines approved — and more follow — pressure is on to raise production volume to meet the government’s target of giving a first shot to 15m of the oldest and most vulnerable people by mid-February and 32m aged 50 and over by April.
Vaccine manufacturing involves a complicated supply chain, with locations at home and abroad.
The UK government has defined nine groups who are receiving jabs in priority order.
So far the UK is ahead of most of its peers in securing and deploying vaccinations for its citizens. Keep up to date with the latest international figures with the FT vaccine tracker.