The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) announced it had struck a commercial deal to produce vaccines in the UK in the event of a future influenza pandemic.
Under the advance purchase agreement (APA), the UK Government would have the option to buy more than 100 million doses of pandemic vaccines from CSL Seqirus, in what the manufacturer described as "a rapid timeframe".
The vaccines would be produced at the healthcare company's site in Liverpool. The "high-speed fill-and-finish facility" would enable the firm "to complete the entire start-to-end vaccine manufacturing process in the UK", while providing "onshore supply security", explained Nige Hilton, vice president of manufacturing and site head of CSL Seqirus Liverpool.
Marc Lacey, the company's global executive director for pandemic, emphasised that the agreement would help the UK maintain "robust preparedness and rapid response capabilities" for the potential future threat of an influenza pandemic.
There have been four influenza pandemics over the past 100 years, arising in 1918, 1957, 1968 and 2009. The 1918 pandemic was responsible for over 50 million deaths worldwide.
Announcing the APA on Tuesday, the UKHSA said that influenza pandemics were "highly unpredictable" in terms of their timing, duration, and severity, with historic events demonstrating they can occur at any time, underlining a need for "vigilance and preparedness".
Speedier and More Secure Access to Flu Jabs
Professor Dame Jenny Harries, the Agency's chief executive, stressed that access to effective vaccines was vital to help save lives and minimise disruption.
Although similar agreements had existed previously, this was the first time the manufacturing process would be based entirely in the UK, giving better security of access if global demand ever outweighed supply, the UKHSA assured.
The agreement represented a "major step forward" in the UK's preparedness against future influenza pandemics, emphasised Dame Jenny, who pointed out that having vaccines produced inside the UK would offer "speedier and more secure access", as well as faster rollout. England's vaccines minister, Maria Caulfield, said the deal would enable "jabs into arms, fast", irrespective of global demand.
UK Striving to Position Itself at the Forefront of Vaccine Technology
This latest development builds on the UK's drive to position itself at the forefront of vaccine research, development, and production.
In August this year the UKHSA unveiled its Vaccine Development and Evaluation Centre at Porton Down. The site, located within the high security science and defence technology campus, is dedicated to the research, development, and evaluation of vaccines against the world's deadliest pathogens. At the time, England's Health and Care Secretary Steve Barclay said the Wiltshire complex would "help us deliver on our commitment to produce new vaccines within 100 days of a new threat being identified".