“We’re not releasing week-by-week figures and you will understand why when I explain,” the minister said. “The more we say – or dare I say show off – about how many vaccines batches we’re receiving, the more difficult life becomes for the manufacturers.”
Mr Clark laughed, saying: “They’re not going to zoom into the country and confiscate them from us.”
But Mr Zahawi said: “The Vaccines Taskforce are right on this, and I’ve had this discussion with the officials dealing with this. It’s not so much only security, and they didn’t just talk about national security, it’s a security matter as to where deliveries come into and how they then are effectively distributed to the deployment infrastructure.”
He added that the numbers could move week by week because “a batch may fail and then another batch comes”, saying: “So it would be, I think, misleading this committee and the House to sort of say: ‘Oh, this is what we’re getting this week,’ because they actually do move around. It’s part of this supply chain challenge that we have.”
Ministers had decided not to follow Israel’s example of allowing anyone under 60 to come forward for a vaccine because that would risk missing out the “most vulnerable”, he added.
“In any manufacturing process, especially one where you’re dealing with a biological compound, a novel vaccine is lumpy at the outset,” Mr Zahawi said. “There’s no doubt that it was, but it’s getting better. It begins to stabilise and you get much clearer line of sight.
“I now have line of sight of deliveries all the way through until end of February and am getting more confidence about March as well. We have millions of doses coming through in the weeks and then next month and the month after.”
The committee also heard from bosses at AstraZeneca, who said they were working flat out to produce as much vaccine for the NHS as quickly as possible.
Around 1.1 million doses have been released to the UK to date, but the aim is to reach two million per week on or before the middle of February, the critical time by which the Government has pledged to vaccinate almost 15 million people in the four most vulnerable groups.