Monday 14 December 2020 10:33 am

Brexit will not affect UK vaccine supplies, says business secretary

A no-deal Brexit will not affect supplies of the Pfizer/Biontech Covid-19 vaccine to the UK, the business secretary has said, as crunch talks between Britain and the EU enter the eleventh hour.

Alok Sharma told the BBC’s Today programme: “We have put in place arrangements to make sure that the distribution of vaccines is not in any way disrupted.

“I’m confident that as things stand these vaccines will continue to flow into the UK.”

The Pfizer/Biontech vaccine is manufactured in Belgium. It must be stored at -70c and can only last for five days, meaning any border delays in the case of a no-deal Brexit scenario would likely severely hamper the distribution of the vaccine in the UK.

Last week, government minister James Cleverly suggested the possible use of the Armed Forces to airlift the vaccine from Belgium. He told the BBC that the government is looking at the use of “non-commercial flights” to ensure the vaccine reached the UK “in whatever circumstance”.

Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last night agreed to extend Brexit negotiations beyond a provisional Sunday deadline.

Von der Leyen said the EU would go the “extra mile” in trade talks, as the two sides remain stuck on the key stumbling blocks of fisheries and so-called level playing field arrangements.

The UK will automatically leave the customs union and single market if a deal is not reached by the end of the Brexit transition period in just 17 days’ time.

It comes after 90-year-old Margaret Keenan last week became the first person in the world to receive a coronavirus vaccine outside of a trial, marking the start of Britain’s largest vaccination programme in history.

Today, more than 100 GP surgeries will receive the first batches of the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine, with some expected to begin inoculations this afternoon.

In total, Britain has order 40m doses of the Belgian-manufactured vaccine — enough to vaccinate 20m people. It has also ordered 100m doses of the Astrazeneca/University of Oxford vaccine and 7m of the Moderna vaccine, among 357m doses of seven different vaccine types.