Background to the report

Since the first cases of COVID-19 in the UK in January 2020, the impact on society and the economy has been significant. Government’s overall objective since May has been “to return to life as close to normal as possible, for as many people as possible, as fast and fairly as possible”.  A vaccination programme plays a central role in achieving this objective. The UK government, like those in many other countries, has worked to support the development of, and to secure access to, any potential vaccine against COVID-19.

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Government recognises that it “must compress the time taken to develop, test, manufacture and distribute a reliable vaccine or treatments as far as possible”.  Extremely high global demand, coupled with the scarcity of vaccine resources, has put added pressures on government to make fast-paced decisions to secure access to potential vaccines, and to build the capacity to manufacture and deploy them in a timely manner. On 2 December 2020, the first vaccine for use in the UK was approved by the regulator and deployment began on 8 December.

Report scope and content

This is our first report on the preparations for COVID-19 vaccines and covers the period from April to 8 December 2020. It examines government’s progress in securing potential vaccines and determining how they will be deployed to the public. We undertook this review in real-time while government has been making decisions and responding to various challenges. Our aim is to provide Parliament and the public with an independent account of the challenges facing government at this stage and how they are being addressed. This report covers:

  • government’s approach to identifying potential vaccines (Part One);
  • government’s progress to date (Part Two);
  • how government is organising itself to work at pace (Part Three); and
  • challenges government needs to manage as it deploys the vaccine (Part Four).

Read more about our work on the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

"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 roll out started, significant challenges remain. Efficient delivery to the UK population presents complex logistical challenges and requires excellent communication with the public." 

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO


Publication details

Press release

View press release (16 Dec 2020)

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