Work to build a specialist vaccines centre at Harwell has begun ahead of schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 7,000 sq m not-for-profit Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) will be the first of its kind in the UK. It was intended to open in 2022 but thanks to a joint bid to rapidly accelerate construction of the complex, it is now due to open in 2021.

The VMIC, Harwell Campus, Vale of the White Horse District Council, UK Research and Innovation and main contractor Glencar, have come together to fast track the scheme so that it can provide an emergency response capability for the UK.

VMIC  chief executive Dr Matthew Duchars said: “Whilst no-one could have predicted the COVID-19 outbreak, we are doing all we can to fast track the build so VMIC is set up to offer long-term support to the UK’s future vaccines needs whilst, simultaneously, contributing right now to the vital work that will help us emerge from this pandemic.”

Ground works began on the site at Harwell Campus in early April. Design and fit out will be led by WHP Engineering.

Chief operating officer of Harwell Campus management team, Cliff Dare, who is development manager for the VMIC building, said: “This is an unprecedented time and one that calls for collaboration across many fields and sectors.

“We are working closely with Matthew (Duchars) and his team, national and local government, and Glencar, the main contractor involved on this complex development.

“It is essential that we continue to fast track this project of national importance, bringing the facility into operation as quickly as possible.

“This is not a straightforward build and fit out. It is a complex, advanced centre of technology and that throws up its own particular challenges.

“One way we are addressing this is by looking at novel strategies for developing fit out technologies, including off-site manufacture that will sit within the building to be developed alongside groundworks.”

Harwell Campus director Angus Horner said: “Early delivery of VMIC will give the UK sovereign resilience and also a new base from where we can support other countries in the global battle against COVID-19 – plus prepare us to meet future threats.

“The whole project team are going above and beyond every day at Harwell, particularly the construction personnel. We thank everyone involved for their strenuous ongoing efforts and off-site support for this supercharged project.”

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