By Alistair Smout
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain is only marginally better prepared for another pandemic than it was for COVID-19, the former head of Britain's vaccine taskforce said on Wednesday, criticising how some structures that helped it emerge from the pandemic had been dismantled.
Britain has one of the highest coronavirus death tolls in the world with more than 177,000 deaths, although its rapid procurement and deployment of vaccines helped the government lift lockdown restrictions sooner than some others.
Kate Bingham, who procured Britain's COVID vaccines in 2020, said there was now no leadership on preparing for possible new variants and some manufacturing capacity had been mothballed.
"We've got the capabilities and yet systematically things are being dismantled that we put in place," Bingham told lawmakers on Wednesday.
"I don't think we're in a much better place to deal with a new pandemic. I think we're marginally better."
Bingham said more work was need to improve the ability of vaccines to stop transmission of newer COVID-19 variants, and she did not know why an agreement for more vaccines from Moderna, agreed in June, had not been signed.
"I absolutely welcome the concept of a big relationship with Moderna to provide and bring both R&D and manufacturing to the UK. So that I'm very positive about. I haven't seen it happen," she said. "It just seems odd that nothing has yet been signed."
Junior health minister Neil O'Brien said that because the broad agreement reached with Moderna in June included more flexibility and open-endedness, the deal was complicated to close.
"Because we are buying a flexible tool, that is a fundamentally complication negotiation... we are extremely close to finalising the remaining detail," O'Brien told lawmakers.
"We have agreed the substantive bulk of all that needs to be agreed, and we are now chasing down the detail."
(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by William James)