Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre sell-off ‘short-sighted’

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Keep Our NHS Public campaigners in Oxfordshire have condemned plans announced last November to privatise the Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) as “monumentally short-sighted”.

The VMIC was established in 2018 as an institution which would develop vaccines and prepare for future pandemics; it is sited in Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire. Established by a consortium of universities (University of Oxford, Imperial College, and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) the VMIC is the UK’s first strategic vaccine development and advanced manufacturing facility and will become operational later this year following the expansion and acceleration of the project in response to the pandemic. The centre had support from the vaccine industry and received £66m from the government.

The proposed sell-off is a significant change of tack by the government. In may 2020 they invested in the facility to expand its capacity, presumably acknowledging its crucial role in protecting the British people from this and future pandemics.

As it stands the VMIC has been established as a non-profit company of which the founding universities are shareholders. Reports have, however, indicated that the VMIC could soon be owned and managed by the private sector. According to the Financial Times, government officials have been examining bids for the centre. The UK biotechnology company Oxford BioMedica, Swiss healthcare manufacturer Lonza, and Japanese company Fujifilm have been reported to be among the companies to have submitted bids. [1]

In December 2020 the UK Vaccine Taskforce’s document ‘2020 Achievements and Future Strategy’ also insisted on its long-term importance: ‘We have worked with VMIC to increase VMIC’s delivery capability… to 70 million doses of pandemic vaccine… This is a permanent facility, with government step-in rights during a crisis.[2]

For the first time in this country, the centre was devised as a way to take a vaccine from development to fruition all within the same building. VMIC experts set up the first UK consortium which drove the process and manufacturing scale-up of the Oxford vaccine through to 2021, when the work was handed over to AstraZeneca. [2]

The government is now arguing that this facility no longer needs to be government owned after witnessing the large-scale production of successful vaccines by large private companies. In this continuing ‘age of austerity’, ministers are seeking to recover some of the millions previously invested by selling off the facility. The issue here is that the UK (as a smaller country) will inevitably lose out in future negotiations.

‘Failure to learn basic lessons’

This short-sighted sell-off is indicative of this government’s overall approach in looking for quick savings at the expense of long-term health prosperity. The sale has been heavily criticised by NHS campaigners both within Oxfordshire and nationally. Campaigners have warned that allowing the centre to be managed by the private sector would see private profit put before public health.

The decision to put the VMIC up for sale fails to learn the basic lessons of the last two years.  Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen countless elements of the response handed over to the private sector – whether it be side-stepping NHS laboratories to hand testing contracts to the likes of Randox, or using contract tracing to siphon millions to Serco while ignoring the expertise in our local authorities. Private profit has been put above public health. Multi-national companies have lined their pockets at a time when protecting people from the virus should have been put first.“We should be learning the lesson from this, not repeating these mistakes. To ensure the UK is properly prepared for future pandemics and has a truly innovative approach to vaccine development and manufacturing, the VMIC should be held in public hands, free from the distorting influence of private profit.

Liz Peretz of Keep Our NHS Public Oxfordshire

Another anti-privatisation campaign group that has spoken out against the move to privatise the centre is We Own It who have launched a petition aimed at the Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, calling for him to intervene and stop the sell-off of the VMIC, which has thus far amassed over 15,000 signatures. [3]

The government made the right move in building the Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre as a public asset with public money. Now it’s shooting itself in the foot by proposing to privatise it. As we’re hit with wave after wave of this global virus, producing vaccines has never been more important to build our resilience. Privatisation has failed again and again during the pandemic. Pharmaceutical companies are raking in eye watering profits from vaccines and protecting their patents at all costs. Health is a public good – there’s no way we can tackle the global pandemic by prioritising shareholders. The Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre is a strategic asset that gives us more control as a country and protection against pandemics in the future. Selling it off would be incredibly negligent.

We Own it spokesperson Tom Morton

The sale has also been opposed by political leaders from Labour and the Green Party. Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting has branded the move as “putting ideology ahead of Britain’s safety against Covid and future pandemics.” [4] Similarly, the leader of the Green group on Oxford City Council – Chris Jarvis – has joined campaigners in calling for the sale to be stopped.

Additional concerns have been raised by figures working in public health. John Bell – who has worked with the government on the Covid response – has warned that early stages of vaccine development could be “fudged” if the innovation aspect of the VMIC’s work is in private hands. [5] Professor Adrian Hill, of the University of Oxford, has described the sale as akin to “having been in a terrible war and you suddenly cut your defence budget substantially”. [6]


  1. The full Financial Times report can be found here:
  3. The full text of We Own It’s petition, along with an up to date signature count can be found here:
  4. As reported in the Independent:
  5. As reported in the Financial Times:
  6. As reported in the Independent:


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