The speedy approval of coronavirus vaccines in the UK has “nothing to do with Brexit”, the head of the government’s taskforce has said.
The admission by Kate Bingham, head of Boris Johnson’s inoculation programme, comes after health secretary Matt Hancock claimed that “because of Brexit” UK authorities had been able to approve vaccines more easily.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency on Friday said the Moderna vaccine was safe and effective.
The body has also previously approved the Pfizer/BioNtech and the Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs. Hancock drew criticism in December after he controversially claimed the process was more easy because of Britain’s exit from the EU.
“We do all the same safety checks and the same processes, but we have been able to speed up how they’re done because of Brexit,” the health secretary said in December.
He was quickly shot down by the MHRA, who said they had approved the Pfizer vaccine under European law.
Now, in an interview with the BBC’s Nick Robinson, Bingham has conceded that the rapid rollout of vaccines has not been made easier by Brexit.
She said the UK’s faster approval of the vaccine was to do with the decision-making process at the British MHRA and that staff prepared well.
She said: “It had nothing to do with Brexit… but that we were organised”.
It comes as 1.5 million people had been vaccinated against the virus in the UK.
Bingham said the UK was on course to vaccinate all clinically vulnerable people by spring, but hit out at “constant media attacks” which she claimed made her job “very difficult”.
She added: “It’s coming up now – ‘well we want to do know precisely the number of doses that are in the country?’. The challenge is that this isn’t precise.
“You’re compressing manufacturing processes that would normally take years to scale up and you’re trying to do that in months so that you have consistent batches.”
Amid demands for teachers to be vaccinated sooner, she added she would not go into detail on the rollout.
She said: “The want to get into the intricate detail by non-experts is not helpful and that’s something that clearly dogs the government more generally, but what I’ve seen is that then there is a reluctance to share information and then everyone thinks you must be hiding secrets.
“The fact, for example, there are still debates of whether there are enough glass vials. I mean they must have thought that we were asleep at the wheel if we didn’t have enough glass vials. So there are things like that – the distrust worries me.’
When pressed on why the UK could not vaccinate as quickly as Israel, she said: ’We have three devolved administrations plus England and we are large and diverse. If we were in a small country like Israel I’m sure we would be doing it just as quickly. Let’s look at the data as it comes through in the next week and I hope we will see some really positive news.
Bingham said she was confident people would be able to move around the UK relatively freely by the summer.
She said: ‘I think the question about summer holidays is how efficient are the other countries at doing the vaccination. What we’ve seen in Europe so far has not been that strong. I’d like to see the vaccinations on the continent improving because they’ve not come out of the blocks quickly.’