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Centralized deployment hub vital to U.K. vaccine rollout success, minister says

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OTTAWA —
Britain’s minister for vaccine deployment says the key to the success of the country’s vaccine rollout program to date has been the formation of a centralized operations network and the consistency with which it operates.

In an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday, Nadhim Zahawi said this framework is especially critical in situations with urgent need and low supply.

“When supply is tight, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got really strong command and control deployment infrastructure, which is why the National Health Service (NHS) was so important to this,” he told host Evan Solomon.

Zahawi said the NHS is in communication with a host of health-care services, including general practitioners, hospitals, and pharmacies but is able “to see the full picture of the deployment and to apportion vaccines” to the necessary inoculation sites.

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He said the hub also includes members from the British Armed Forces, and backend distribution channels.

“We brought in our big retailers Boots and Superdrug, they have a distribution arm so we asked them to come in and help with the distribution. DHL delivers the actual vaccine,” he said, adding “it’s like we’ve built a national supermarket chain in a month and we’re growing it 20 per cent every week.”

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At the pace it’s going, the U.K. is on track to vaccinate all adults with at least one shot by July. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced he intends to lift all COVID-19 restrictions in England by June 21.

Beyond the importance of building a “strong strategic centre,” Zahawi also credits the success of their rollout to a monumental “risk” they took back in the summer to drastically enhance domestic manufacturing capacity.

They did so, he said, “before any of these vaccines had any data that would say that they would be efficacious, that they would be effective against the COVID-19 virus.”

“It was a deliberate, strategic decision taken at risk in the sense that we didn’t know that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine team would be so successful but we took the risk to invest in vaccine manufacturing capability in the United Kingdom, ready for that success.”

Eighty per cent of the U.K.’s Oxford-AstraZeneca is produced in-house, the remaining 20 per cent is produced offshore.

“We were not a country that had large-scale vaccine production capability, just like we weren’t a country that had large-scale production capability in [personal protective equipment],” he said.

Ottawa has long argued that the best approach for Canada, because of the lack of domestic manufacturing capacity, was to diversify our procurement portfolio and secure vaccines internationally. Procurement Minister Anita Anand has also stated that she asked vaccine suppliers repeatedly if they could make doses in Canada and all said no.

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