SCOTLAND’S life sciences sector was among those who stood up to the mark when called upon to do so by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
As the pandemic struck, the UK’s vaccine manufacture and testing industry mobilised, some working for months without contracts.
The work done prompted the UK Government to declare itself a “world superpower” in the war against coronavirus.
While this outstanding groundwork was achieved by some of the most dedicated and best-placed people on the planet, momentum seems to have been lost, squandered, according to a key Downing Street appointment last year who said this week that decisions against production in Scotland were short-sighted, disappointing, and represented a shortcoming.
Dame Kate Bingham, former chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, this week delivered an astonishing account of the UK Government’s behaviour following its earlier successes in pushing forward a Covid-19 vaccination manufacturing and procurement.
Giving evidence to ministers, Dame Kate, a leading figure in the life sciences sector, criticised the decision to cancel the deal for 100 million Valneva vaccines from the French company’s Livingston plant, which was being upgraded to meet the called-on capacity.
She said: “To me it was short-sighted to cancel a capability of a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant which would have brought skills and jobs and economic benefits to the UK over and above any vaccines we may or may not procure.”
Health minister Sajid Javid earlier claimed the Valneva vaccine would not pass regulatory tests.
However, Ms Bingham told the committee this week: “Capability is one shortcoming.
“The second is precisely because we have seen this with Omicron, until we vaccinate the world, we are going to continue to get variants and the vaccines that we could have bought from Valneva, even if we didn’t want them, the world could have wanted them, because the Valneva data was strong when they produced their phase three data and looked more effective than the AstraZeneca vaccine.”
She added: “I am absolutely disappointed about Valneva … I still can’t understand why we wouldn’t want to continue.”
Dame Kate said: “This is an industry where they got together and worked co-operatively for something like six months without contracts.
“Now that sort of industry is one we should treasure, and support, rather than cut them off at the knees by cancelling contracts … ”
The Valneva vaccine is one with a wider physical influence beyond just the spike proteins which makes it potentially very useful. When we know no-one is safe until everyone is safe, the UK’s actions are concerning.
In a separate case, the Alva-headquartered Omega Diagnostics, was selected to manufacture up to 200 million rapid Covid antigen tests in a contract worth up to £374 million. Department of Health and Social Care cancelled, and asked Omega to return £2.5m it provided as part of its upscale costs, as it abandoned the contract. DHSC declined to comment on either case.
Elsewhere, “evidence of the hugely detrimental impact of Brexit on UK exporters and the country’s economy is continuing to pile up but there is no sign the hidebound Boris Johnson administration cares one whit,” writes business editor Ian McConnell this week’s Called to Account column.
As Omicron now overshadows the festive season, deputy business editor Scott Wright writes this week: “Christmas is billed as the season of goodwill to all. But for the Scottish hospitality trade, it is fast turning into a recurring nightmare.”
He says: “The industry, one of the country’s biggest employers and the heartbeat of social life in Scotland, is facing a ruinous festive season after the outbreak of Omicron and subsequent measures to halt its spread took a wrecking ball to its hopes.”
There has been mixed fortunes in energy, business correspondent Mark Williamson writes, as an attack on a Scottish energy giant shows investors see value in Scottish windfarms.