The former vaccines taskforce boss has branded Matt Hancock a “bit like a headless chicken”, as new messages emerged in the leak of the former health secretary’s WhatsApp correspondence.
Dr Clive Dix, the former chairman of the Vaccines Taskforce, used an article in the Telegraph to call Mr Hancock the “most difficult of all the ministers because he didn’t take time to understand anything”.
“He was all over the place, a bit like a headless chicken. He often made statements saying ‘we are going to do X and we want to let the world know about it’, but we were dealing with an uncertain situation in bringing the vaccines forward.
“The manufacturing process was brand new and any process like this is fraught with problems, which we need to fix as we go along, but normally you would spend two or three years stress-testing something like this.
“Hancock was laying down timelines by saying things like ‘we will vaccinate the whole population’, and these timelines drove his behaviour.”
The rebuke by the former chairman is the latest blow to Mr Hancock after the Telegraph published a tranche of leaked correspondence from the former health secretary.
The messages were shared with the newspaper by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who co-authored Mr Hancock’s memoir the Pandemic Diaries, which covered his time as health secretary.
The latest messages show Mr Hancock criticising vaccines tsar Dame Kate Bingham, after she had used an interview with the Financial Times to claim that vaccinating everyone in the UK was “not going to happen” and the country needed to just “vaccinate everyone at risk”.
Exchanges from October 2020 show him saying she “has view and a wacky way of expressing them & is totally unreliable”.
“She regards anything that isn’t her idea as political interference.”
Mr Hancock also complained in February 2021 about Dame Kate and Dr Dix, who took over as chairman after her six-month term came to an end, amid concerns about UK access to vaccines from the Serum Institute of India.
A spokesperson for Mr Hancock said: “As we’ve seen all week, these stories are wrong as they’re based on an entirely partial account.
“In the case of vaccines, Matt drove the goal of getting everyone vaccinated, often against resistance in the system. Ultimately he prevailed, thank goodness, and we got the first vaccine in the world, for everyone. Matt set all this out in his book.”
Dr Dix hit out at the former health secretary, accusing him of “panicking” before trying to pursue doses from India.
The UK made secured vaccine doses from the Serum Institute of India in 2021, but Dr Dix said he had serious misgivings about the plan.
“When we said the AstraZeneca vaccine had manufacturing problems, that is when Hancock panicked,” Dr Dix wrote.
“He didn’t believe us. We were working night and day to make it work and he was turning around and saying: ‘I have said the UK population will all get vaccinated.’
I don’t think he understood the process. He was a loose cannon— Dr Clive Dix
“But we couldn’t change the nature of the process and he didn’t get that. He thought it was like procurement. That is where his behaviour came from.
“He panicked and that led to them going to India and taking vaccines that had been meant for the developing world.”
Dr Dix, writing after the leak of the WhatsApp messages, said it is “certainly extraordinary to see how two-faced they are”.
“We were working as hard as we could and he thought he could just come in and make a bold statement to the public and tell us that we have got to do it. I don’t think he understood the process. He was a loose cannon.
“The taskforce sat in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and that is where the budget came from. We reported to Alok Sharma and then Nadhim Zahawi came in as vaccines minister. Hancock wanted to get involved and because he was secretary of state, Alok stepped aside.
“He was using the vaccine to protect his reputation. We had no ego, we were only doing this because the country needed vaccines. I had worked for nine months from 4am until midnight without any pay to do this.”
A spokesman for Dame Kate told the Telegraph: “These WhatsApps suggest that Matt Hancock was not aware of the published and agreed government vaccine procurement policy, did not read the reports by and about the work of the Vaccine Taskforce, and did not understand the difference between complex biological manufacturing and PPE procurement.”