Coronavirus vaccines saved after emergency operation launched at manufacturing site hit by floodwater

Jamie Johnson
·3 min read
Wockhardt pharmaceutical manufacturing facility on Wrexham Industrial Estate - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Wockhardt pharmaceutical manufacturing facility on Wrexham Industrial Estate - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Thousands of vials of the Oxford / Astrazeneca vaccine were saved during an “urgent” mission by council staff following flooding at an industrial estate in Wales.

Heavy rain caused by Storm Christoph led to standing water surrounding buildings at Wockhardt's pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Wrexham, and a call for help was put out on Wednesday evening.

The Telegraph can reveal that other sites where the vaccine is manufactured are near areas which have flood warnings, and government sources said there were "concerns around vaccine deployment".

The leader of Wrexham County Borough said that authorities worked "through the night" to ensure that the site was not overwhelmed by flood water, using a team of six staff, a number of sandbags and two water pumps.

Mark Pritchard told the Telegraph: "We got a phone call last night from the company who were concerned about rising water."

"There was obviously a sense of urgency so we got a team of six people, a load of sandbags and two pumps onto the site.

"The building most at risk was the storage facility, not the manufacturing facility.

"We diverted the water away from the industrial units in the same way as we would with a home. We got there at the right time. If we hadn't reacted, the place would have flooded.

"It's nice to have a nice story. Vehicles have been coming and going and the operation hasn't been disrupted at all. Obviously, we're continuing to monitor the situation.

“This could have had an impact not just in Wrexham, Wales, but across the whole country with the vaccination supplies."

All "necessary precautions" were taken to prevent disruption to the manufacture of the jab, according to a spokeswoman for Wockhardt UK.

"The site is now secure and free from any further flood damage and operating as normal."

The fill-and-finish stage of the vaccine's production is undertaken at the facility, which was visited by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in November.

The company said it has had a presence in Wrexham for over two decades and employs more than 400 people at its manufacturing facility.

But it has put into sharp focus the need to protect other sites where the precious vaccines are being made and stored.

Oxford Biomedica's production suite at its Oxbox facility in Oxford, and the city was last night subject to four “flood alerts” where flooding is possible.

In Staffordshire, Cobra Biologics at Keele University is also manufacturing the vaccine. The local area had one flood alert last night.

And in Merseyside, it is understood that logistics firm Movianto is taking delivery of the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be stored at -70 degrees celsius. Last night there was only one flood alert in the nearby area.

Ministers had already warned that the target of vaccinating all over-70s by Feb 15 would be "tight" following recent supply issues, and any suspension of the programme in some areas would mean NHS workers having to deploy vaccines faster, to catch up.

A source said: "At the moment, the vaccination centres remain open and we are telling people they should still attend appointments. But if they are unable to get there or if the centres have to be closed, we will reschedule their jabs."