UK

PM’s efficiency drive over Oxford vaccine factory pays off as site can make an extra 5m jabs a year

As a keen student of military history, Boris Johnson is well aware of Lord Beaverbrook and his influence on changing the course of the Second World War.

For the Prime Minister, however, it is jabs in the arms rather than planes in the air that have changed the course of his battle with coronavirus.

Just as Beaverbrook obsessively pushed for aircraft production to take priority, so Mr Johnson has focused on vaccine production in Britain – in particular at Oxford Biomedica, a gene and cell therapy company producing the AstraZeneca drug.

No 10 insiders say that he repeatedly asks for reassurance that the company’s 84,000 sq ft vaccine factory, known as ‘Oxbox’, is running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Oxford Biomedica, a gene and cell therapy company, has created capacity to provide an extra five million extra jabs a year

It has been, but the PM has pressed officials to squeeze every drop of vaccine that it can.

And The Mail on Sunday can reveal that this relentless scrutiny from the very top of Government has spectacularly paid off.

An efficiency drive – prompted by the Prime Minister’s relentless focus – has resulted in the plant creating capacity to provide an astonishing five million extra jabs each year. Astonishingly, the improved performance has transformed Oxbox into the most efficient AstraZeneca factory in the world.

‘They were pretty good before, at the top of league tables, but now they are the most efficient plant in the global supply chain from AstraZeneca,’ one insider said. 

In a further boost to Britain’s programme, the MoS can reveal that more than two million doses of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine are expected to be in the UK by the end of May providing 200,000 doses a week. The first shipment will arrive within days and has been earmarked for the 40-49 age group.

In an exclusive interview, Moderna’s European boss Dan Staner said hundreds of thousands of doses will be delivered every week over the next two months, allowing the UK to vaccinate vast numbers.

‘We are finalising our conversation with Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency as we speak,’ Mr Staner said. ‘It’s a matter of days. Within days we will be able to ship.’

Moderna’s jab is based on the same mRNA technology behind the Pfizer-BioNTech injection and will be administered in two doses at least 28 days apart. It can be stored in a fridge at the point of injection for up to a month.

Britain’s vaccine rollout has been threatened by slowdowns in supply and claims from the EU it will block exports, but Mr Staner said he was ‘confident’ that Moderna would hit its UK supply agreements.

He said the US pharmaceutical company had invested in ‘ramping up’ production of the jab, and could produce nearly three billion doses next year. But he added: ‘It’s now people need vaccines, not next summer. To get rid of this virus we need to vaccinate and vaccinate fast.’

Government sources say the recent threats from the EU to block jab delivery from factories based within Europe – combined with the Prime Minister’s keen interest in Oxbox – has also helped spur AstraZeneca into action. Mr Johnson asks if Oxbox is running 24/7 ‘all the time’ in meetings with the vaccine taskforce and Health Ministers, an insider said last night.

Bosses reviewed every stage of the production process at the facility and worked out ways to make it more efficient as part of a so-called Process Improvement.

A source said: ‘You go back on every process in the production line, and say – how can I improve it even more? So for every litre improvement of yield, you get much more end doses. That is what Oxford Biomedica has done so brilliantly.’

Opening the factory in January, Mr Johnson showered praise on its 250-strong team with a rousing address of which Beaverbrook would have been proud.

‘I urge you all to keep up your vital work in ensuring the strong supply of vaccines to the frontline, and help deliver the biggest inoculation programme in British history,’ he said.

Oxbox has not been the only beneficiary of a vaccine efficiency drive. The ‘fill and finish’ plant in Wrexham, North Wales, which decants jab doses into 0.5ml vials, is in the process of boosting the number of production lines, senior sources said.

The work will give Wrexham the capacity to fill more vials of the vaccine. As a result, Government sources say they are ‘confident we’ll hit our targets’ despite the vaccine nationalism hitting global supply chains.

Combined with other vaccine plants – last week Mr Johnson announced a new ‘fill and finish’ facility for the Novavax jab in Barnard Castle, Co Durham – the UK will be able to produce 600 million jabs a year by 2022, internal Government figures have shown.


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