The UK government said late Wednesday it has ordered 114 million additional Covid-19 vaccine doses, from pharmaceutical giants Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, to bolster its jabs drive over the next two years.
The orders — 60 million extra doses of the Moderna vaccine and 54 million more Pfizer-BioNTech shots — come as Britain expands its booster programme following the emergence of the Omicron variant.
The country has set a two-month target to give third doses to all adults aged over 18, after broadening eligibility and halving to three months the time needed since getting a previous jab.
“These new deals will future proof the Great British vaccination effort — which has so far delivered more than 115 million first, second and booster jabs across the UK,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement.
“This is a national mission and our best weapon to deal with this virus and its variants is to get jabs in arms.”
Announcing the new orders, the Department of Health said Britain remained committed to donating 100 million doses “to countries in need” by mid-2022.
It noted the UK will have donated more than 30 million by the end of the year, and has announced plans for donations totalling 70 million doses so far.
However, Western countries including Britain have faced strong criticism for the failure to get more vaccines to poorer countries, with experts warning it heightens the risk of dangerous Covid variants emerging.
– Pharma summit –
Britain has been one of the worst impacted by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, with some 145,000 deaths since last year.
Daily infection rates remain high although more than 80 percent of people aged 12 and over have been double jabbed, and nearly a third have so far had a booster.
It has now recorded 32 cases of the Omicron variant, after nine new cases were detected in England and another case was found in Scotland, officials said earlier Wednesday.
The 22 English cases span from London and the southeast to the East Midlands, eastern England and the northwest, while Scotland has registered 10.
In the bid to deliver 3.5 million jabs a week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that vaccination centres would be “popping up like Christmas trees”.
At least 400 military personnel would be drafted in to help the state-run National Health Service deliver the shots, he added.
Meanwhile on Thursday, Johnson will host the world’s largest pharma firms, including AstraZeneca, GSK and Pfizer, to discuss working together “to tackle emerging variants and future pandemics,” his office said.
The virtual summit — dubbed the “Biopharmaceutical CEO Roundtable” — will explore how lessons learned from the Covid-19 response can be applied to solve other healthcare challenges of our generation, it added.