The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine programme in England – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Committee of Public Accounts

Related inquiry: Roll out of the COVID:19 vaccine programme

Date Published: 13 July 2022

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The highly successful COVID-19 vaccine programme in England was delivered thanks to the actions of many bodies, including the Vaccine Taskforce, NHS England, and thousands of local GPs, pharmacists, NHS staff and volunteers. By the end of May 2022, 90% of the adult population had been vaccinated with two doses, well above the planning assumption of 75%. By the end of October 2021, the vaccine programme had spent £5.6 billion to purchase and deploy COVID-19 vaccines. Two features particularly contributed to the programme achieving its initial objectives. First, the Taskforce secured early access to the vaccines the UK needed, by signing contracts before regulatory approval. Second, NHS England ensured a range of different routes for people to get vaccinated, while clearly prioritising those most at risk.

This success should be welcomed, and all involved congratulated. However, the nature of the pandemic and the health response to it are changing, and the programme must not allow these first stage achievements to cloud the need to review and adapt its approaches. In December 2021, in response to the omicron variant, the government rapidly accelerated the rollout of first boosters to people aged 12 and over. Since then, the daily number of first boosters administered has slowed markedly. The programme also started rolling out second boosters to selected groups in spring 2022 and providing vaccinations to newly-eligible 5- to 11-year-olds. The need for, and nature of, future booster campaigns is unknown and much else remains uncertain, including about how the virus will mutate, the vaccine market and vaccine efficacy. The vaccine programme is still necessary and every effort must be made to ensure vaccines reach the people who have been missed as well as ensuring new boosters are provided.

While overall uptake has been high, some important groups have had much lower uptake, including pregnant women and some minority ethnic groups. At the end of May 2022, nearly 3 million people were still completely unvaccinated. Overall demand for vaccination during the rest of 2022 may be lower, raising the risk of increased wastage. NHS England and local health bodies also now face the difficult task of formulating staffing and delivery plans for COVID-19 vaccination for the rest of 2022–23, plans that will need to fit in with other demands on a hard-pressed and often exhausted healthcare workforce. The portfolio of UK vaccines has narrowed over the course of the programme and, for 2022 and 2023, the UK is primarily reliant on two vaccines from seven original candidates.