The programme to vaccinate the entire UK population against coronavirus is set to cost taxpayers up to £12 billion, the public spending watchdog has estimated.
According to the National Audit Office (NAO), the Government would spend up to £11.7 billion on purchasing and manufacturing Covid-19 jabs for the UK, deploying them in England and helping global efforts to find a vaccine.
That figure, however, does not cover the costs of any future potential multi-year vaccination programmes.
The NAO added that costs to the taxpayer were uncertain, depending on how vaccines develop through clinical trials as well as manufacturing and administering costs.
It’s also warned that taxpayer costs could increase because the vaccine contracts each contain a form of indemnity protection for the pharmaceutical companies in case of legal action arising from adverse effects.
The Government has no cap applied to the amount it could have to pay if there was a successful claim against the companies in four of the five contracts agreed so far, the NAO said.
The UK ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, as well as 40 million of the Pfizer, seven million of the Moderna, 60 million of Valneva SE, and 60 million of the Novavax Inc jabs.
The Pfzier vaccine is already being rolled out by the NHS after it was approved by the regulator.
Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: “Developing and securing an effective vaccine is central to reducing the impact of Covid-19 on society and saving lives.
“Government has worked quickly and effectively to secure access to potential vaccines, using the available information to make big decisions in an inherently uncertain environment.
“With one vaccine now approved for use and its rollout started, significant challenges remain.
“Efficient delivery to the UK population presents complex logistical challenges and requires excellent communication with the public.”
Labour MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said the Government was right to have backed a “number of horses” but that the accountability arrangements were “highly unusual”.
She said: “Scientists and the regulator have done phenomenal work, achieving a breakthrough that would normally take at least a decade in less than a year.
“It was clearly right to back a number of horses – nobody could have known which vaccines would work, or when they might be approved.
“But the accountability arrangements were highly unusual – even though huge sums of money are involved.
“The organisations who know how to carry out mass vaccination campaigns didn’t always have a seat at the table when decisions were taken.
“The logistical challenges of vaccinating tens of millions of people – on top of the other pressures on the NHS – can’t be underestimated. We aren’t over the finish line yet, and the vaccination programme must not fall at the last hurdle.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said: “As the report rightly notes, we have worked at a pace and scale never been done before to ensure the British public receive a vaccine that meets strict safety standards as quickly as possible.
“The UK was the first country in the world to procure and authorise the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and to begin a vaccination programme last week. Thanks to the work of our Vaccine Taskforce, the UK is now in an exceptionally strong position with a diverse portfolio of 357 million doses of some of the world’s most promising vaccine candidates.
“To ensure our country is in the best position to make any Covid-19 vaccine available as quickly as possible and respond to future pandemics, we have worked to build an entire domestic vaccine manufacturing base from scratch by investing in state-of-the-art facilities across the country.”