The Covid vaccination programme was an effective use of public money, with pharmacy administered jabs costing £10 less per item than those given in mass vaccination centres.

Overall, the Covid vaccination programme has vaccinated more people, had less wastage and made greater use of pharmacies than had been expected when first put in place, the National Audit Office found in an analysis.

The report, which did not include the recent booster programme, found:

  • Between the start of the Covid-19 vaccination campaign and the end of October 2021, 87 million doses had been given with 85% of adults having received two doses, far higher than the 75% that had been planned for.
  • The number of doses delivered was more than six times that administered in the previous annual flu vaccine and 71% of doses were given by GPs and pharmacists – far above the 56% that had been expected.
  • Dedicated vaccination centres have been the most expensive part of the programme at £34 per dose compared with £24 for GPs and community pharmacies.

Community pharmacies and GPs were also the most popular delivery model for all priority groups although people aged under 65 were more likely than others to use dedicated vaccination centres.

And while the programme had planned for 15-20% wastage, only 4% of vaccines had had to be thrown away, which included 1.9 million expiring AstraZeneca doses after changes to clinical advice around their use in the under 40s.

Covid vaccination programme cost £5.6bn by October

The Covid vaccination programme in England has successfully met ‘stretching and unprecedented’ targets and was value for money for taxpayers, the report from the National Audit Office found.

By the end of October 2021, the Covid-19 vaccination programme in England had spent £5.6bn out of total available funding of £8.3 billion for the two years to the end of March 2022, including £2.9bn to purchase vaccines and £2.2bn on deployment.

Contracts or agreements are in place with six suppliers for over 340 million doses of vaccines to be delivered to the UK by the end of 2022, the NAO said.

But the NAO noted that the programme had not met some later objectives including targets to vaccinate most 12-to-15 year olds by late October 2021.

Although there were efforts to address inequalities, the uptake of Covid-19 vaccines in some ethnic minority groups remained substantially below the national average as did uptake in younger age groups and pregnant women.

Yet despite the overall success, there are now substantial risks that must be managed, the NAO concluded, including staffing issues, burnout, and a lack of surplus capacity in the healthcare system.

Credit due to all those involved

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: ‘The vaccine programme has been successful in getting early access to what were brand new Covid-19 vaccines, securing supply of them, and administering them to a large proportion of the population at unprecedented speed. 

‘The programme must now redouble its efforts to reach those who are not yet vaccinated while also considering what a more sustainable model will involve as it moves out of its emergency phase.’

Meg Hillier, MP, chair of the committee of public accounts said great credit was due to all those involved from the scientists creating the vaccines to those procuring doses and administering the jabs.

‘However, the success of the roll-out didn’t extend to all parts of society. Government needs to do more to understand how it can better reach those groups and communities where uptake was low.

‘Now the worst of the pandemic has hopefully passed, the government can’t afford to put its feet up. It must learn lessons from its response to Covid to ensure the country is better prepared for future emergencies.’

A version of this story first appeared on our sister website, Pulse.