Former Vaccine Taskforce head Dame Kate Bingham has spoken of her fears that officials have “taken their foot off the gas” when it comes to finding innovative new ways to prevent the spread of Covid-19, in a way that is potentially damaging to the UK economy.
Bingham, who was a key player in setting up the UK’s vaccines programme, returned to biotech and healthcare venture capital firm SV Health Investors in December 2020. She has since been critical of civil service skill levels and operating practices – most notably in a Romanes Lecture at Oxford University last year.
Last month, Bingham said the civil service was failing to learn lessons from its Covid-19 experiences in relation to recruitment, based on an advertisement for a new director for the UK Covid-19 vaccine unit, which will be based in the UK Health Security Agency from October.
Her latest comments accuse the civil service of failing to build on the Vaccine Taskforce’s early achievements with a world-leading public vaccination programme, and instead having “just gone back to form”.
"People say, 'You know, not as many are dying,' which is true. So we take our foot off the gas and focus on something else. But none of the vaccines are good enough,” Bingham told the Times.
“They don't block transmission, they don't protect for very long. mRNA doesn't have good durability, the data is pretty clear on that.”
Bingham said it was extremely important to keep looking for new vaccines and different delivery models – such as nasally administered options. She was also critical of the government’s decision to pull out of a contract with French firm Valneva, which she said could have provided a useful “mix and match” product for use with existing vaccines.
"We need to find a better format, we need better vaccines," she said. "I would be exploring more. I'd be looking at more mix and match. I'd be working with the next generation of vaccines," she said.
“It's these sorts of things that we need to be doing."
Bingham was also critical of the National Institute for Health and Care Research’s decision to create a new database of people keen to take part in clinical research, requiring people who volunteered for a pandemic-time database to opt in again.
The NIHR said it was important to ask people to give fresh consent for any new volunteer service and said the registry would "help people with all conditions".