The Daily Telegraph

He was a headless chicken who used us as a shield for his own reputation

- By Clive Dix Dr Clive Dix is the former vaccine taskforce chairman

Iworked with Matt Hancock the whole time I was at the vaccine taskforce, and he was without doubt the most difficult of all the ministers because he didn’t take time to understand anything.

He was all over the place, a bit like a headless chicken. He made statements saying “we are going to do X and we want to let the world know about it”, but we were dealing with an uncertain situation in bringing the vaccines forward. The manufactur­ing process was brand new and any process like this is fraught with problems.

Hancock was laying down timelines saying things like “we will vaccinate the whole population”, and these timelines drove his behaviour.

It was always going to be tricky to get an exact date of when vaccines would arrive and it was always a best guess or an estimate. Getting a vaccine in that time scale is difficult, and I don’t think that ministers understood that.

When we said the Astrazenec­a vaccine had manufactur­ing problems, that is when Hancock panicked. He didn’t believe us. We were working night and day to make it work and he was turning around and saying: “I have said the UK population will all get vaccinated.”

We couldn’t change the nature of the process, and he didn’t get that. He thought it was like procuremen­t. That is where his behaviour came from. He panicked and that led to them going to India and taking vaccines that had been meant for the developing world.

I thought that ethically it was very wrong to take doses that it had been agreed would go to the developing world to meet an arbitrary timeline. This is why I ended up resigning, because I could no longer advise a Government that acted on these terms.

Originally they had come to the taskforce and said: “Can we use India supplies?” But the manufactur­ers hadn’t been inspected by the MHRA. Approving the Indian vaccines was going to take time and we couldn’t give vaccines to people without that. But Hancock didn’t get it. He said: “They are making it anyway.” We kept having to tell him that there was a process.

At the same time, we sent a team to start the inspection just in case. We didn’t stop the work. The MHRA did a brilliant job and flew out a team and got it done by February. The Serum Institute of India (SII) said they would give us 10million doses, but I questioned it. We had agreed a deal with AZ to get the vaccines from the European manufactur­ers and India would make vaccines for the developing world.

Here we were taking 10 million doses from the developing world to meet Hancock’s timeline … that had just been plucked out of the air.

We were still well ahead of the majority of the world, ministers should have been upfront and said that we can vaccinate everyone within a month, but we won’t quite hit the timeline.

I couldn’t stop them doing it, because it wasn’t my job to make policy decisions about where we get the vaccine from. But I said if this is where you are then I don’t want to

advise this government any more. I didn’t resign there and then but I did resign in March 2021.

It was all driven for the wrong reasons and then Hancock – rather than put his hands up – blamed the taskforce for stalling. For him to be sending messages and saying Kate Bingham [the first chair of the taskforce] was not reliable is appalling.

We were working as hard as we could and he thought he could just make a bold statement to the public and tell us that we have got to do it. He was a loose cannon.

The taskforce sat in the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and that is where the budget came from. We reported to Alok Sharma, then Nadhim Zahawi came in as vaccine minister. Hancock wanted to get involved and because he was secretary of state, Alok stepped aside.

He was using the vaccine to protect his reputation. We had no ego, we were only doing this because the country needed vaccines. I worked for nine months from four in the morning until midnight without any pay.

It is certainly extraordin­ary to see how two-faced they are. They were all nice to me to my face but to see what they were saying to Boris Johnson was particular­ly unpleasant.

It reflects badly on Nadhim and all the civil servants who worked so hard to get this right. In my opinion, Hancock was actually the problem.

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