Hancock Says U.K. Plans to Fly in Vaccine If No EU Deal Reached

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the U.K. has contingency plans to fly doses of the coronavirus vaccine being developed by Pfizer Inc. andBioNTech SE into the country if there’s disruption at the border when the post-Brexit transition period ends Dec. 31.

“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,” Hancock told BBC TV’s “Question Time” show late Thursday, when asked about the impact of Brexit. “We’ve got a plan for all eventualities.” He reiterated that he’s “confident” the lack of an EU deal wouldn’t hold up delivery of the vaccine.

The issue matters because with eight weeks to go until the transition period ends, the U.K. and EU are yet to strike a new trading regime to replace it. That’s left companies and business groups warning of border chaos with customs systems not yet ready and overwhelming new paperwork requirements.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the leading candidate to be the first to receive approval for use after earlyfindings this week showed it protects most people from Covid-19. The U.K. has already agreed to buy 40 million doses of the vaccine, but manufacturing takes place outside the country, raising the importance of smooth border operations.

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On Thursday, the supplier of aningredient for the vaccine warned that avoiding border disruption was key to the smooth rollout of the vaccine.

Avoiding Friction

“Making sure that we are free from friction at the borders is a crucial step for the vaccine,”Croda International Chief Executive Officer Steve Foots toldSky News. “The last thing we need is a problem with a lack of an agreement, and you’ve got friction at the borders.”

Foots warned that it wasn’t just the vaccine that would need smooth transit into the U.K., but also possibly refrigerants and refrigeration technology to help transport doses. Unlike regular vaccines, Pfizer’s messenger RNA-based shot must be stored at an ultra-cool temperature of around -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit).

Speaking to Parliament’s science committee earlier this month, Kate Bingham, chair of the U.K. Vaccine Taskforce,estimated the U.K. would have as many as 10 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine ready to deploy by year-end.

Hancock’s remarks came after Business Secretary Alok Sharma earlier Thursday refused to rule out Brexit disruption hampering the U.K. supply of the vaccine. In a news conference Thursday, he was asked three times whether it would be an issue, and three times he failed to rule it out, saying supply chains would be “an issue across many sectors.”

“Whatever deal we end up in terms of our future relationship with the EU, there will be changes for business and businesses do need to be prepared,” he said. “If we all get prepared, we will be in the right place post-transition.”

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