Race to save Oxford COVID vaccine doses held at secret Welsh plant from Storm Christoph floods

Andy Wells

Watch: Race to save vaccine doses at Welsh plant from Storm Christoph

Emergency teams battled through the night to save thousands of COVID vaccine doses from being swamped by flooding as a result of Storm Christoph.

Rising waters surrounded the secret site in Wrexham, North Wales, after heavy rain lashed the area, putting the doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at risk.

Wrexham Council leader Mark Pritchard told Sky News that the overnight operation had been “successful”.

He said: “We've had the issues on Wrexham industrial estate. The Oxford vaccine is manufactured there and we had to work with a company logistically with their storage facility, that was under a possibility of flooding.

The Wockhardt pharmaceutical manufacturing facility on Wrexham Industrial Estate in North Wales, where emergency teams were called out to protect supplies of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine following flooding from the heavy rainfall caused by Storm Christoph. Picture date: Thursday January 21, 2021.
The Wockhardt pharmaceutical manufacturing facility on Wrexham Industrial Estate in North Wales. (PA)

“So we worked through the night with that and that was a success.

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

When asked what steps were taken to protect the supplies, Pritchard added: “They were under pressure and had serious concerns that their warehouse logistically could be flooded and they asked for our support...

YORK, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Roads are closed alongside the River Ouse in York following flooding as rain and recent melting snow raise river levels on January 21, 2021 in York, England. Storm Christoph is the first named storm of 2021 with heavy rain and snowfall bringing flooding to areas of the UK including Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and Cambridgeshire. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
Roads are closed alongside the River Ouse in York following flooding as a result of Storm Christoph. (Getty)
Floodwaters in York, in anticipation of Storm Christoph which is set to bring further flooding, gales and snow to parts of the UK. Heavy rain is expected to hit the UK, with the Met Office warning homes and businesses are likely to be flooded, causing damage to some buildings. Picture date: Wednesday January 20, 2021.
Floodwaters in York, in anticipation of Storm Christoph which is set to bring further flooding, gales and snow to parts of the UK. (PA)
Gabrielle Burns-Smith erects a road closed sign on Warrington Lane on the outskirts of Lymm in Cheshire as Storm Christoph causes widespread flooding across the UK. Picture date: Thursday January 21, 2021.
Gabrielle Burns-Smith erects a road closed sign on Warrington Lane on the outskirts of Lymm in Cheshire as Storm Christoph causes widespread flooding across the UK. (PA)

“We worked through the night with them, we put resources in there, pumps... and we've worked through the morning and been successful.”

A spokeswoman for Wockhardt’s pharmaceutical manufacturing facility said that all “necessary precautions” were taken to prevent disruption to the manufacture of the vaccine, following “mild flooding”.

She said in a statement: “Last night at approximately 1600 hours Wockhardt UK experienced mild flooding, resulting in excess water surrounding part of the buildings across site.

“All necessary precautions were taken, meaning no disruption to manufacturing or inlet of water into buildings.

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

The secret plant has been tasked with making 300 million doses of the vaccine per year but its industrial estate location is close to the River Dee which was last night at its highest level ever recorded as Storm Christoph moved in.

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.

Families in the nearby village of Bangor-on-Dee were evacuated as a severe flood warning was issued.

A multi-agency statement from police, fire, ambulance and coastguard described the flooding in Bangor-on-Dee as a "major incident".

It said: "As a severe weather warning indicates that there is a risk to life, it was deemed necessary to evacuate residents of Bangor-on-Dee, in order to ensure the ongoing safety of the community.

"The evacuation effort continues, with all routes in and out of the village currently closed to the public due to the flooding."

Wockhardt
Wockhardt pharmaceutical manufacturing facility said that all 'necessary precautions' were taken. (PA)
WREXHAM, WALES - NOVEMBER 30: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson poses for a photograph with a vial of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University COVID-19 candidate vaccine, known as AZD1222, at Wockhardt's pharmaceutical manufacturing facility on November 30, 2020 in Wrexham, Wales.  The UK government announced a deal in August with global pharmaceutical and biotechnology company Wockhardt, to increase capacity in a crucial part of the manufacturing process for Covid-19 vaccines. Britain has been Europe's worst-hit country during the pandemic, recording more than 57,000 deaths from some 1.6 million cases.  (Photo by Paul Ellis - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Prime minister Boris Johnson holds a vial of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine at Wockhardt's pharmaceutical manufacturing facilityin Wrexham, Wales. (Getty)

Almost 200 flood warnings remained in place across England on Thursday morning, with four “severe” warnings – meaning danger to life – issued for the North West.

In the early hours of the morning, North Wales Police began evacuating residents from their homes in Bangor-on-Dee after a severe flood warning was issued for the village by Natural Resources Wales.

“We continue to ask everyone to attend Ysgol Sant Dunawd as soon as possible,” the force said on Twitter.

“Please do not try to leave the area yourself due to the road conditions.”

Parrs Wood High School playing fields are flooded after the River Mersey rose high in Didsbury, Manchester, as Storm Christoph causes widespread flooding across the UK. Picture date: Thursday January 21, 2021.
Parrs Wood High School playing fields are flooded after the River Mersey rose high in Didsbury, Manchester. (PA)
LYMM, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 20: Cars are abandoned in floodwater on January 20, 2021 in Lymm, Cheshire. Danger to life flood warnings are given along the River Mersey in East Didsbury, West Didsbury and Northenden as Storm Christoph moves in on the UK.  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Cars are abandoned in floodwater in Lymm, Cheshire, due to flooding. (Getty)

Residents in Maghull were also advised to leave their properties after a severe flood warning was issued due to “unprecedented” water levels at Dover Brook near the River Alt, Sefton Council said.

But as rain overnight was not as heavy as predicted, this was replaced with a flood warning on Thursday, according to the council.

The Environment Agency said that while this was “good news”, it expected water levels to remain high throughout the day with flooding to properties still possible.

Watch: Thousands of properties being evacuated due to flooding

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