Delivery schedule and storage locations have not been disclosed by the UK government because the vaccine is such a valuable commodity
The Scottish Government has been forced to retract its Covid-19 vaccine delivery plan following a major backlash from UK ministers and manufacturers. Ministers in Westminster reacted furiously on Wednesday evening to the decision by the Scottish Government to publish its plan for deliveries, which has effectively revealed how many doses the UK is expecting.
The fallout has been compounded by Jeane Freeman, the Scottish health secretary, naming a vaccine storage facility. The Scottish Government has argued the name was already in the public domain. The vaccine delivery schedule and storage locations have not been disclosed by the UK government, with ministers and officials warning the vaccine is a "valuable commodity" and therefore a security risk.
There is also concern disclosure will lead to vaccine manufacturers, such as Pfizer and AstraZeneca, facing backlash from countries that have not secured as good a deal as the UK. On Tuesday, leaders of the three devolved administrations were warned to keep details of vaccine supplies secret. Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the Scottish Government had been told, on a four nations call with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, that supply numbers should not be revealed.
In the same briefing given to health chiefs, deputy chief medical officer in England, Jonathan Van Tam, said the diversion of vaccine supplies by manufacturers was “always a risk”, according to reports. However, due to a Scottish Government document published online on Wednesday, it is possible to estimate approximately how many doses are being readied for UK distribution this month, as well as providing estimates all the way up to May. The document has since been removed, but insiders have warned that the “damage has already been done.”
A UK Government source said: “The reason we didn't want to publish these figures was that everyone in the world wants these vaccines, and if other countries see how much we are getting they are likely to put pressure on the drug firms to give them some of our allocations." Scottish Conservative health spokesman, Donald Cameron MSP, said: "This is the second serious error by SNP ministers in the space of 24 hours. "Yesterday, the health secretary revealed a secret location that Scottish Government officials wanted to keep confidential. Now, they've had to pull a whole vaccination plan out of sheer incompetence. "These mistakes potentially endanger supplies and risk impacting the rollout of the vaccine.”
The Telegraph has approached the Scottish Government for comment. The decision forced Department for Health ministers and officials to scramble on Wednesday evening to contact vaccine manufacturers to try and reassure them. Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, is understood to have contacted Pascal Soriot, the chief executive of AstraZeneca, to try and contain the fallout. Whitehall sources have insisted the UK has a clear delivery schedule in place, meaning the Scottish Government’s actions did not risk jeopardizing future supplies. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, has been urged to contact Jeane Freeman after she publicly named the location of the storage facility.
Following her comments, the Scottish Government admitted the facility had not been “publicly identified as part of the security protocols around Covid-19 vaccine distribution and therefore should not be reported.” But it later changed its position and, in a statement to the Scottish Sun, a spokesman said the location was "already in the public domain" and the name of the distribution agent was also "widely known".
"That is why the Health Secretary included it in an exchange in parliament this afternoon as part of her commitment to sharing with MSPs all available detail about our vaccination program. "We suggested the location should not be named following a background briefing for media as we were following advice to avoid naming vaccine holding centers in hospitals in Scotland. "We took the same approach with other distributors, but this was overly cautious."