New COVID vaccines could be flown into the UK to avoid potential delays due to Brexit, Matt Hancock has said.
The health secretary’s comments come amid concerns that Britain’s departure from the EU at the end of the year could delay the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine.
But Hancock said he was “confident” that a no-deal Brexit would not delay supplies and the government has a plan for “all eventualities”.
He told BBC Question Time: “We have a plan for the vaccine which is being manufactured in Belgium, and if necessary we can fly in order to avoid those problems… we’ve got a plan for all eventualities.”
Earlier, the head of British firm Croda International, which supplies an important ingredient in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine candidate, said avoiding disruption at the border would be “a crucial step” in making sure the rollout of the vaccine isn’t delayed.
“We must make sure that the vaccine doesn’t have any problems getting into the UK, into the supply chain, or even the practical issues of refrigerant technologies and everything else”, chief executive Steve Foots told Sky News.
“They could be products that are needed for the UK that are sourced abroad, so making sure that we are free from friction at the borders is a crucial step for the vaccine.”
Post-Brexit trade talks are still ongoing, but even if a deal is reached there are likely to be major changes to cross-border trade as the UK leaves the single market and customs union.
On Thursday, Business Secretary Alok Sharma repeatedly failed to rule out potential delays on the supply of a COVID vaccine when new arrangements come into force on January 1.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, he said: “Whatever form of deal we end up with with the European Union, there are going to be changes for businesses, and my department has been writing on a weekly basis to hundreds of thousands of businesses, making them aware of individual areas where they’re going to have to have a look and see whether they’re ready for the end of transition.
“That may be in terms of customs clearances, it may be how they’re looking to employ people who are currently working in the European Union, issues around work permits if they’re going to go and work in the European Union.
“All of these issues I think businesses, of course, will want to address.”