A vaccine centre in Harwell, near Oxford, has been put up for sale by the government, prompting questions from MPs and observers about the implications of such a move. The Vaccine Manufacturing Innovation Centre (VMIC) was at the heart of the government’s efforts to respond to future pandemics.

Creation of the VMIC began in 2018, when the government, in concert with the University of Oxford and other university and industry partners, announced plans for a state-backed entity to produce vaccines and manage pandemics. It was planned for completion in 2023, but progress sped up for a Spring 2022 opening amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Some campaigners have referred to the centre as a “crown jewel” and worry that privatizing the vaccine centre will stymie future vaccine manufacturing efforts. Some that have worked closely with the VMIC have said that it greatly accelerated Oxford’s vaccine programme and contributed to saving lives.

Government officials in support of the sale have said that additional investment is needed to complete the VMIC, which can come from private buyers instead of public coffers. Furthermore, the need for a state-backed vaccine manufacturing centre has gone down, as the private sector has shown its ability to quickly develop and distribute vaccines to the wider public.

The Financial Times reported that at least four companies have placed bids for the VMIC, including biotechnology company Oxford BioMedica, a Swiss healthcare manufacturer, and a Japanese conglomerate.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the House of Commons: “I think what we’re doing is investing hundreds of millions to make sure we have a dynamic vaccine industry. Clearly government needs to work hand in glove with the private sector as we have done.”

Image: Daniel Schludi

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