EU Covid vaccine supply row deepens as minister Nadhim Zahawi warns against ‘nationalism’

Nicholas Cecil and Joe Murphy
·3-min read
<p>British Prime Minister Boris Johnson loads doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for mobile distribution</p> (REUTERS)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson loads doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for mobile distribution

(REUTERS)

A minister warned today against “vaccine nationalism” as a European Union row over supplies escalated.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi stressed his confidence that millions of doses from Pfizer/BionTech, produced in Belgium, as well as supplies of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab would be delivered to meet UK vaccination goals.

However, Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn backed EU proposals which could see restrictions imposed on Covid-19 vaccine exports as tensions grew with pharmaceutical giants AstraZeneca and Pfizer over the threat of sudden supply cuts just a month after the bloc started vaccinating citizens.

Latvian foreign affairs minister Edgars Rinkevics said EU members were considering taking AstraZeneca to court for alleged breach of supply contracts if the company does not honour the Covid-19 vaccine delivery schedule.

Some experts, though, questioned the legal basis for such court action.

Britain is a world leader in vaccinating its citizens against coronavirus, with more than 6.5 million people having received the first dose, far outstripping other European countries.

The vaccine gap is particularly embarrassing for EU leaders, who are facing a backlash over delays in approving vaccines and delivering them, as it comes so soon after Brexit, raising fresh questions over whether Brussels red tape is stifling quick action.

Amid frustration over delays in deliveries of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 shot and other supply problems, the EU has proposed setting up a register of vaccine exports.

With the growing focus on international vaccine supply, Mr Zahawi told Times Radio: “Vaccine nationalism is the wrong way to go. No one is safe until we’re all safe.”

Asked whether the EU could prevent Pfizer vials leaving its borders, Mr Zahawi told Sky News: “No, I’m confident that the Pfizer vaccine will be delivered. They have made a very important announcement on the equitable supply of the whole world, including the EU, and I’m sure they will deliver for the European Union, the United Kingdom and for the rest of the world.

“We have got 367 million vaccines that we have ordered from seven different suppliers, so I’m confident we will meet our target and continue to vaccinate the whole of the adult population by the autumn.”

The UK gets its doses of the Oxford jabs domestically. Mr Zahawi, who also told of the “pain” of losing an uncle to Covid last week, stressed the supply of vaccines was “tight” as pharmaceutical giants seek to ramp up production of doses in huge demand globally.

Mr Spahn said: “I can understand that there are production problems but then it must affect everyone in the same way. This is not about Europe first but about Europe’s fair share,” he said, adding it made sense to have export limits on vaccines.

He expected the European authorities to approve the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at the end of this week, a month after it was given the go-ahead in the UK.

AstraZeneca has told the 27-country EU it could not meet supply targets for its vaccine up to the end of March, a further blow to the bloc’s pandemic efforts after Pfizer announced a temporary slowdown in supplies in January.

French MEP Véronique Trillet-Lenoir, a member of the health committee of the European Parliament, said the European Commission will consider “controlling” products made in the EU as part of its row with AstraZeneca over the bloc’s vaccine roll-out, while also examining possible legal action.

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