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Storm Christoph flooding threat to factory producing Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine

Local authorities use water pumps to save lab and warehouse in Wales from the deluge

The Wockhardt pharmaceutical plant in Wrexham, Wales was hit by flood waters from Storm Christoph. Reuters.
The Wockhardt pharmaceutical plant in Wrexham, Wales was hit by flood waters from Storm Christoph. Reuters.

Emergency services in the UK battled to save a laboratory producing millions of doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine after it was hit by flooding from Storm Christoph on Wednesday.

The River Dee in Wrexham, north Wales, reached its highest level, prompting concerns it would burst its banks.

The Wockhardt plant at Wrexham industrial estate confirmed that it experienced “mild flooding” but said production did not stop. Wockhardt UK contacted emergency services over concerns rising water could flood a warehouse storing the vaccine.

“Last night at approximately 1600 (GMT) hours, Wockhardt UK experienced mild flooding, resulting in excess water surrounding part of the buildings across site,” the company said.

“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.”

Wrexham Council leader Mark Pritchard said local authorities pumped water from the buildings as the nearby village of Bangor-on-Dee was evacuated.

“We had an incident at Wrexham industrial estate, the Oxford vaccination is produced there and the warehouse there is where it is stored,” he told BBC Radio Wales.

“We had to work in partnership to make sure we didn't lose the vaccinations in the floods. I've been up all night ... it's a very difficult time for us.”

Wockhardt UK provides fill-and-finish capacity for AstraZeneca's UK supply chain, putting doses of the vaccine into vials or syringes and packaging them. The lab reportedly has the capacity to produce 300 million doses a year.

Prime minister Boris Johnson during his visit to Wockhardt's pharmaceutical manufacturing facility last year. Getty.
Prime minister Boris Johnson during his visit to Wockhardt's pharmaceutical manufacturing facility last year. Getty.

In November, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited the plant and said it could provide “salvation for humanity” once regulators approved the use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

Meanwhile, heavy rain and snow from Storm Christoph continued to fall across England and Wales, with many rivers at “dangerously high levels”, the Environment Agency said.

Mr Johnson earlier urged people to heed flood warnings and evacuate when asked.

On Tghursday, Mr Johnson flew to Didsbury, Greater Manchester, in an RAF helicopter where he was shown damage caused by the storm. He warned residents there would be "more to come" for the area.

Downing Street said Covid-secure facilities would be available for any people forced to evacuate as a result of the weather.

Mr Johnson said steps were being taken to ensure the transport and energy networks were prepared to prevent severe power failures and that there were sufficient supplies of sandbags.

The Environment Agency issued a further 191 flood warnings across England, with 228 less severe flood alerts, mainly across the Midlands and north of the country.

In Wales, 48 flood warnings and 57 flood alerts are in place, while six flood alerts are in force in Scotland.

Met Office forecaster John Griffiths said Aberllefenni in Wales experienced the UK’s highest level of rainfall from Storm Christoph, with 187 millimetres falling over the past 56 hours.

Mr Griffiths said that although flooding would be an “ongoing issue” for the UK over the next few days, the forecast was “generally an improving picture”.

Updated: January 21, 2021 06:38 PM

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