Boris Johnson has been accused of ignoring a senior official’s plan to prepare Britain for the emergence of vaccine-resistant Covid variants, the Observer can reveal.
With the the government announced on Saturday that the first UK cases of the Omicron variant had been detected, the former head of the government working group on vaccines said he could see no evidence that his plan to tackle the more worrying variants – submitted to the spring – had been implemented.
In an interview with the ObserverDr Clive Dix, a leading drug development figure who chaired the task force until April, said he believed the UK was no longer “at the forefront” to tackle the pandemic. “I wrote a very specific proposal on what we should put in place right now for the emergence of any new virus that has escaped the vaccine,” he said. âThis was written and delivered to the [vaccine taskforce] end of April when I left. I haven’t seen any signs of these activities yet.
“I sent a note to No. 10 [in May] saying I think this is still an emergency and should be dealt with urgently – and I want it made public that you have my proposal. But I didn’t even get an answer to that. I pushed the government and said, “What is going on, because we have to do it”. I don’t see any of this happening.
He added, âI think it’s time to ask the vaccine task force and the government, what’s your plan for a variant escape? What is your resilience plan for the future? Let’s see this because I think the country needs to know.
His criticisms echoed those of Kate Bingham, the first chair of the vaccine task force, who warned in a speech last week: “If we had relied on the existing machinery of government, the result [of the vaccine programme] could have been very different. Dominic Cummings, former chief adviser to the prime minister, also called on the government to release its plans to tackle vaccine-resistant variants of Covid.
As part of Ten’s strategy, a coordination team would research new vaccines, give the company involved a ‘fast track’ to a rapid trial, access to data and regulatory approval, in return for access. fast to new vaccines. He said this system was working when the pandemic started and should be repeated.
He warned that simply waiting to buy vaccines once they were developed, Britain would find itself at the back of the pack as large customers would be prioritized. âIf we leave it up to the industry to do it, it will go to the highest bidder, and the UK will no longer be at the top of that queue because it’s not a big market. Whereas if you act as a partner, you get things done. It’s not rocket science, and the infrastructure is there.
He said he envisioned French company Valneva as a key part of this process. However, he said the government’s âridiculousâ decision to cancel his existing contract with the company had damaged that approach.
Although he said the Omicron variant now detected in the UK was likely to be more resistant to current vaccines, he hoped this wouldn’t necessarily lead to an increase in serious illness and death. âThe current variant that’s coming up is a beast,â he said. âIt contains a lot of mutations and it is likely that the antibodies we have already generated from the vaccines will be less effective. They are less effective against the Delta variant in preventing people from getting infected, but they are effective in preventing people from getting seriously ill or dying.
âI think that will be maintained with the South African variant. The reason they keep people from getting seriously ill and dying is not the antibody response. It is the longer term cellular immune response. And it’s pretty obvious now that this is what keeps people from going to the hospital and dying. So I’m pretty sure that answer won’t falter.
A government spokesperson said: âOver the past year we have witnessed unprecedented innovations and scientific breakthroughs made possible by collaboration between medical experts, governments and industry.
âEarlier this year, we joined the 100 day mission, which will ensure that the industry is part of a strong collaboration with governments, international organizations and academia over the coming months and years to take action towards a common goal: protecting people from future pandemics by developing and deploying safe, targeted and effective diagnostics, treatments and treatments. large-scale vaccines.