NHS campaigners in Oxfordshire have condemned reported plans to privatise the Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus.

Established by a consortium of universities - Oxford University, Imperial College, and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine - the VMIC is the UK’s first strategic vaccine development and advanced manufacturing facility.

Keep Our NHS Public Oxfordshire said VMIC was established as a non-profit company of which the founding universities are shareholders.

The centre, which is understood to have received more than £200m in taxpayers’ money, was commissioned in the wake of the west African Ebola epidemic to develop a state-run vaccine manufacturing network and better prepare the country for future outbreaks of infectious diseases.

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Its completion date was brought forward during the coronavirus pandemic, from 2023 to spring 2022, while officials agreed to scale up the size of the facility, trebling the project’s original budget of roughly £70m.

Oxford Mail:

Liz Peretz, of Keep Our NHS Public Oxfordshire, said: “The decision to put the VMIC up for sale is monumentally short-sighted and fails to learn the basic lessons of the last two years.

“Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve seen countless elements of the response handed over to the private sector.

“The result? 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.”

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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. The potential sale has been criticised by NHS campaigners. They have warned that allowing the centre to be managed by the private sector would see ‘private profit’ put before ‘public health’.

Oxford Mail:

Anti-privatisation campaign group We Own It are among the organisations that have spoken out against the move to privatise the centre. We Own It has launched a petition to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, calling for him to intervene.

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A government spokesperson told the Independent: “We are working closely with VMIC, which is a private company, and others to ensure the UK retains our strong domestic vaccine manufacturing capability to contribute to the UK’s resilience against Covid-19 and other future health emergencies.”

A VMIC spokesperson said: “We remain committed to ensuring that VMIC delivers the innovation and manufacturing capability it was established for, ultimately, accelerating vaccine development, strengthening UK resilience, and providing long-term manufacturing capability for the UK.”