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Covid-19 Vaccine Roll-out: Contingent Liability

Volume 685: debated on Tuesday 8 December 2020

I am tabling this statement for the benefit of honourable and right honourable Members to bring to their attention the contingent liabilities relating to the contract signed between HMG and Pfizer/BioNTech for their covid-19 vaccine.

On 2 December, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) gave its authorisation for use of the covid-19 vaccine being manufactured by Pfizer/BioNTech. With deployment of this vaccine beginning this week, I am now updating the House on the liabilities HMG has taken on in relation to this vaccine via this statement and departmental minute laid today.

The agreement to provide an indemnity as part of the contract between HMT and Pfizer/BioNTech creates a contingent liability on the covid-19 vaccination programme, and I have laid a departmental minute today containing a description of the liability undertaken.

It has been and is the Government’s strategy to manage covid-19 until an effective vaccine/vaccines can be deployed at scale. Willingness to accept appropriate indemnities has helped to secure access to vaccines with the expected benefits to public health and the economy alike much sooner than may have been the case otherwise.

Given the exceptional circumstances we are in, and the terms on which developers are willing to supply a covid-19 vaccine, we have taken a broader approach to indemnification than we usually would. Global approaches differ, but we are aware that many other nation states are offering indemnities as part of their contractual arrangements, or other means e.g., the US PREP Act, which provides immunity from liability to vaccine developers.

Even though the covid-19 vaccines have been developed at pace, at no point and at no stage of development has safety been bypassed. The independent MHRA’s approval for use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine clearly demonstrates that this vaccine has satisfied, in full, all the necessary requirements for safety, effectiveness, and quality. We are providing indemnities in the very unexpected event of any adverse reactions that could not have been foreseen through the robust checks and procedures that have been put in place.

Developing a vaccination against covid-19 has been an extraordinary feat which has been delivered at great pace. Given the pace of vaccine development and our ambition to deploy the vaccine as soon as it has been authorised, it has not been possible to provide you with normal 14 sitting days to consider this issue of contingent liabilities.

I will update the House in a similar manner as and when other covid-19 vaccines are deployed.