The joined-up thinking that characterised Britain’s immediate response to the need for a Covid-19 vaccine in 2020 is now just a memory – despite its stunning success in helping to protect the population.
The latest blow is an announcement from US biotech company Catalent, which took over the Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre at Harwell, near Oxford when it bought out the government’s shares in April 2022.
Catalent promised to invest £120 million to complete building the centre, which already had more than £200 million of government money invested in it. The sale marked a decisive shift in which the government sees vaccine security as something the private sector can manage.
Now, in a move revealed by The Times newspaper, Catalent says it’s “pausing” construction. According to Fierce Pharma, the company is cutting expenditure in the face of a slowdown of income from Covid-19 products.
It was always a long shot that Catalent would put real effort into vaccine production, given that its main business is manufacturing biologic medicines. Even the press release it issued when it bought the centre put biologic therapies first and vaccines second.
Now investment in vaccine production is even further away – and what was to be a centre for vaccines innovation seems more and more like a pipe dream, as reported in Workers September October 2022 edition.
Britain’s vaccines capability received another kick in the teeth this month when the French company Valneva announced on 10 November, “In light of the reduced order volume from EU Member States, Valneva suspended internal and terminated external manufacturing of [its Covid-19 vaccine].”
The Valneva plant in Livingston, west of Edinburgh, was initially supported and encouraged by the British government, before an about-turn which abruptly led to the loss of over 100 planned new jobs.
The SNP-led administration in Scotland took advantage of Westminster’s bad faith to gain some good publicity by announcing Scottish Enterprise grants totalling £20 million for research and development on Valneva’s Covid-19 vaccine as well as vaccines in general.
Now, ominously, Valneva says about Covid-19 that it is “executing its ‘reshape’ strategy including re-sizing which will allow the Company to increase efficiency and focus on its operational and strategic business objectives”. Where that leaves Valneva’s Scottish factory is anyone’s guess.