Vaccine Taskforce to become part of UK Health Security Agency

Task force staff will join new directorate within UKHSA in bid to retain “innovative approaches” gained during the pandemic
Margaret Keenan, the first patient in the United Kingdom to receive the Pfizer Covid vaccine, getting her booster. Photo: PA/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

16 Jun 2022

The Vaccine Taskforce will be merged into the UK Health Security Agency, the health secretary has announced.

Core functions of the Vaccine Taskforce will move to the UK Health Security Agency in October, while responsibility for its onshoring programme will transfer to the Office for Life Sciences at the same time.

The move “will ensure the innovative approaches, skills and operating model that have been such a key part of the UK’s pandemic response are retained”, according to a joint press release from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Department of Health and Social Care.

“The VTF has performed exceptionally during the pandemic, securing early access to the most promising Covid vaccines which allowed the UK to be the first country in the world to begin its life-saving vaccination programme,” health secretary Sajid Javid said.

“The wall of defence built by vaccines is allowing us to live with Covid without restrictions and get back to doing the things we love.

“From autumn, the VTF and UKHSA will work as one unit to ensure we are prepared for all future health threats and they will build on the success of the Covid vaccination programme to improve our other life-saving immunisation programmes.”

The VFT was set up in July 2020 to enable the procurement, development and rollout of vaccines to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. The UK was the first country to roll out Covid vaccines and has since administered almost 150 million doses to more than 45 million people.

The task force also played a critical role in supporting efforts to distribute vaccines globally.  The UK was one of the earliest and largest donors to COVAX – a global initiative to deliver equitable access to Covid vaccines, which has delivered 1.5 billion doses worldwide to date.

The task force’s vaccine supply responsibilities will move to UKHSA and will be established as a permanent function. Task force staff from the Taskforce will become part of a new directorate within UKHSA “to ensure a smooth transition and embed learnings from the VTF”, BEIS and DHSC said.

The UKHSA was set up in January 2021, bringing Public Health England, NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Centre together in one agency.

UKHSA chief executive Dame Jenny Harries said: “This is a real investment by government in UKHSA and a strong recognition of the excellent science and new thinking encapsulated in our organisation – a very exciting opportunity for us all and one which helps us realise new ambitions as a global scientific leader.

“With its innovative way of working and close links with academia and industry, the Vaccine Taskforce functions joining us will be a tremendous asset - complementing our excellent vaccines and immunisation work.

“We look forward to welcoming our colleagues and the invaluable expertise they will bring.

“Embedding their unique approach will help us realise our future ambitions around science and innovation, and crucially strengthen our pandemic preparedness and build resilience to future health threats.”

Contracts are in place with manufacturers to continue to support the UK’s vaccination programmes for this year and the next, including access to reformulated vaccines.

The task force was initially part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy but became a joint BEIS and DHSC unit in March 2021.

VTF director general Madelaine McTernan said the task force “has demonstrated how working in partnership across government, industry and academia can deliver incredible results”.

“I am very proud of what the VTF has delivered over the last two years, both here in the UK and internationally, thanks to the hard work and will to win of a great many people,” she added.

Responsibility for the task force’s onshoring programme – which aims to strengthen the UK’s capacity and capability to develop and manufacture vaccines domestically to provide resilience for future pandemics – will move to the Office for Life Sciences, which straddles DHSC and BEIS.

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