Covid jab rollout was good value for public money, says watchdog

The National Audit Office said the programme had been a success.

25 February 2022

The rollout of the coronavirus vaccination programme has been praised by the UK’s public spending watchdog for meeting “stretching and unprecedented targets” and saving lives.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said securing a supply of vaccines early was “crucial to the successful rollout” which helped “to save lives and reduce serious illness and hospitalisation”.

The independent watchdog said there were risks ahead for the programme, including staff burnout and reaching groups with a lower rate of uptake.

Coronavirus – Sat Jan 23, 2021
Nurse Eleanor Pinkerton administers a coronavirus vaccine to one of the health and social care staff at the NHS Louisa Jordan Hospital in Glasgow (Jane Barlow/PA)

But in a report released on Friday, which covers a period up to the end of October 2021, the NAO said wastage of around 4.7 million vaccine doses – around 4% of the total supply – had been “much lower than the programme initially assumed” and that the whole operation had been “an effective use of public money”.

The report said the vaccine programme spent £5.6 billion up to the end of October last year, out of a total available pot of £8.3 billion available over two years up to March this year.

The NAO said its calculations had found the average procurement cost per Covid vaccine dose had been £15.02 including VAT, but this varied between suppliers and over time, while the average deployment cost was £25.70 per dose.

The report said the programme now “needs to maintain the high levels of vaccine uptake it has achieved among the general population”.

But it warned there are some risks to the programme, including staff burnout, over the delivery of further jabs when around 3.7 million adults still had not been vaccinated.

The report also said that despite efforts to address inequalities, some ethnic minority groups “remained substantially below the national average” in terms of uptake, as well as younger people and pregnant women.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: “The vaccine programme has been successful in getting early access to what were brand new Covid-19 vaccines, securing supply of them, and administering them to a large proportion of the population at unprecedented speed.

“The programme must now redouble its efforts to reach those who are not yet vaccinated while also considering what a more sustainable model will involve as it moves out of its emergency phase.”

Dame Meg Hillier, the Labour chairwoman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said the speed and uptake of rollout had been a “real success”.

She said: “Great credit is due to all those involved, including the scientists creating the vaccines, the national bodies involved in securing the doses we needed, and all those administering the jabs.

“However, the success of the rollout didn’t extend to all parts of society.

“Government needs to do more to understand how it can better reach those groups and communities where uptake was low.

Coronavirus – Wed Dec 15, 2021
Dr Nikki Kanani, the most senior English GP (Tolga Akmen/PA)

“Now the worst of the pandemic has hopefully passed, the Government can’t afford to put its feet up. It must learn lessons from its response to Covid to ensure the country is better prepared for future emergencies.”

GP and deputy lead for the NHS vaccination programme, Dr Nikki Kanani, said: “The National Audit Office finding that the NHS Covid-19 vaccination programme has been an effective use of public money confirms what we already knew about the biggest and most successful vaccine drive in health service history – it was delivered efficiently, effectively and at speed – vaccinating millions of people, helping to save thousands of lives and reduce serious illness from Covid.

“As the programme continues to respond to new scientific advice, NHS staff and volunteers are still committed to pulling out all the stops, vaccinating at community hubs like places of worship and sports stadiums, as well on buses, at drive-through clinics, and even in ‘mini toy towns’ created especially for children, in order to ensure all communities are protected from Covid.

“It’s not too late to come forward for your first, second or booster dose, if you haven’t already – the offer of a Covid vaccine on the NHS is evergreen.”

Vaccines minister Maggie Throup added: “Our phenomenal vaccination programme has saved countless lives and is helping us to live with Covid-19 without restrictions, making us the freest country in Europe.

“It’s great to see the NAO recognise the success of the programme – thank you to our brilliant NHS, GPs, community pharmacists, volunteers, civil servants and armed forces for your dedication which has helped turn the tide on Covid-19.

“For anyone who hasn’t come forward – the NHS is here for you so please get vaccinated today.”

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