Nicola Sturgeon told to keep vaccine supply secret by UK Government amid concerns manufacturers may divert provision to other countries

Political leaders of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have been told to keep the details of the number of vaccines supplied to the UK and their countries secret by the UK Government because of concerns over pressures on supply, it has emerged.

Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the Scottish Government had been told on a four nations call with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, that supply numbers should be kept close to the chest.

UK Government ministers and scientific advisers are concerned being too transparent about the exact number of vaccines the UK has received would allow other countries in the world to pressurise vaccine manufacturers to divert supply.

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The Health Service Journal (HSJ) reported on Monday that NHS England’s chief executive Sir Simon Stevens had told NHS leaders that “politicians were keeping away from the rooftops on numbers” relating to the supply of vaccines.

The specific data around vaccine supply will be kept secret around fears about potential supply chain pressures.The specific data around vaccine supply will be kept secret around fears about potential supply chain pressures.
The specific data around vaccine supply will be kept secret around fears about potential supply chain pressures.

In the same briefing given to health chiefs, deputy chief medical officer in England, Jonathan Van-Tam, said the diversion of vaccine supplies by manufacturers was “always a risk”, the HSJ reported.

Speaking at her daily coronavirus briefing, the First Minister confirmed this had been briefed to all government leaders within the UK during a call with Mr Gove last week.

She said potential diversions and the suppression of vaccine supply numbers was “mentioned” as “an issue that we had to be aware of”.

Speaking on Tuesday, the First Minister confirmed the issue of potential diversions and a need to keep the data suppressed had been discussed with all leaders of the four nations.

She said: "The issue about being a little bit circumspect, if I can use that language, about overall supplies of the vaccine in the UK to try to avoid pressures on the supply chain that might come from other parts of the world was mentioned in a four nations call last week which Michael Gove chaired as an issue that we had to be aware of.

"I think it is important that we are as transparent as possible, but equally of course it's just a statement of the fact that we are in a global supply chain for vaccines and therefore those who are doing the procurement will perhaps want to bear that in mind.

"We in Scotland, and I think this will be the case across the UK, will be as transparent as we can be about supplies coming in and, of course, what is most important overall, which is the vaccine being administered, which we’re now reporting on a daily basis.”

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On Friday, when asked whether supply data or data on the number of vaccines administered at each vaccination centre would be published, Ms Sturgeon said "judgements” had been made by the Scottish Government that gathering and publishing daily vaccine supply figures would add workload to already stretched officials at Public Health Scotland and NHS Scotland staff.

The day before she labelled the suggestion she was “reluctant” to release vaccine supply data as being “pejorative language” and said there were many reasons why that information would not be made public, including the complexity of the roll-out.

As of January 12, 175,942 people have received their first dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Scotland, equivalent to around 3.2 per cent of the population.

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