EU is caught out AGAIN as it negotiates for Teesside-produced Novavax vaccine while ‘Brexit Brits’ secured 60million doses in AUGUST – as Brussels publishes AstraZeneca contract amid jabs row
- EU vaccine shambles got worse today as it emerged officials have not yet signed a deal to buy Novavax jabs
- The vaccines, which are being made in Britain, passed phase III trials on Thursday with 90% effectiveness
- UK, which is already far ahead of EU in jabs roll-out, signed a deal for 60million Novavax doses back in August
- Comes after EU threatened to take AstraZeneca jabs off the UK after its supply chain was hit with delays
- Brussels on Friday published contract it signed with AstraZeneca in attempt to prove it has a right to UK jabs
The EU’s vaccine shambles descended further into chaos today as it emerged the bloc has not yet signed a deal to buy British-made Novavax jabs which passed phase III trials yesterday with a 90% success rate.
Ministers from the EU commission only completed ‘exploratory’ talks to buy Novavax, which is being made in a Tesside plant in northern England, in December last year – with the details of a final contract still being worked out.
Meanwhile the UK, which is already far out-pacing the EU with its jabs roll-out, put pen to paper on a contract to buy 60million doses of Novavax back in August last year, more than five months ago.
It means the EU will once again be playing catch-up with the UK, whose vacine roll-out has already far outstripped the continent’s, leading one German newspaper to complain this week that it was ‘the best advert for Brexit’.
British regulators still need to approve the Novavax jab for use, but it is hoped the swift process – which has far outpaced that of EU regulators – will mean the jabs come online around the end of summer, when the UK’s vaccine drive should be drawing to a close.
Meanwhile the EU’s row with AstraZeneca deepened today as Brussels published a redacted version of a confidential contract it signed with the drug-maker in an attempt to prove it has the right to jabs made in the UK.
A key paragraph of the contract entitled ‘manufacturing sites’ does stipulate that sites in the UK count as part of the EU for purposes of manufacturing jabs.
But it makes no clear mention of exactly how jabs manufactured at those sites will be distributed, likely teeing up a protracted legal battle between the two sides.
Eurocrats have been embroiled in an unseemly and days-long argument with the company after it announced initial supplies of its vaccine would be cut by 60 per cent – though the EU insists the actual cut is 75 per cent.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who negotiated for vaccines on behalf of the EU, is under huge pressure after the continent’s vaccine programme hit stumbling blocks and supply delays
It means the EU will once again be playing catch-up with the UK when it comes to getting its hands on the new jabs (pictured), having previously delayed a contract for AstraZeneca vaccines by three months
German health minister Jens Spahn confirmed today that the bloc is still in negotiations to buy Novavax vaccines – British-made jabs that passed phase III trials yesterday with 90% effectiveness – while the UK inked a deal back in August last year
Belgian health authorities were sent to AstraZeneca’s European production site in Seneffe on Thursday after the European Commission demanded an inspection of the site. They were sent in after AstraZeneca told the EU it would only receive a quarter of the jabs it expected by April due to delays in production
EU officials have demanded that Covid vaccines made in the UK be exported to Europe to help plug shortfalls in its own jabs roll-out, which is among the slowest in the world and is lagging well behind Britain
The UK is one of the world’s leading countries when it comes to the speed of the roll-out of its coronavirus vaccination programme – a fact made all the more impressive given where the nation started when the pandemic hit early last year.
At that point the country had just one vaccine manufacturing site – a facility in Liverpool which made flu jabs.
But the Government quickly set up a vaccine task force in April to make sure the UK was well-positioned to benefit from medical breakthroughs.
The experts appointed to the task force reportedly recommended seven projects for investment within its first two weeks, according to The Times.
Advance purchase orders were hammered out by the task force with suppliers despite the fact there were no guarantees that any of the vaccines would work or that they would be signed off by regulators.
That early work meant the UK was in pole position to receive the jabs, if and when they were shown to be effective and safe.
The task force’s strategy means two companies have been relied upon to do much of the heavy lifting during the UK’s vaccine roll-out: Pfizer and AstraZeneca.
The UK ordered 40 million doses from the former and 100 million doses from the latter.
Agreements are also in place with a handful of other would-be suppliers should their products get the green light.
The speed with which the UK moved on vaccines was perhaps best illustrated this week when Pascal Soriot, the chief executive of AstraZeneca, revealed the deal with Britain was agreed three months before the EU’s.
The UK’s supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine is made at sites in Oxford and Staffordshire before it is put into vials at a facility in Wrexham, while the Pfizer jab is made in Belgium.
Every new batch of vaccine in the UK has to be safety tested by the National Institute of Biological Standards and Control in Hertfordshire before it can be sent for delivery.
This process takes about four days and once each batch has been rubber-stamped it is taken to secure Government warehouses where the NHS takes over the process and decides where the doses will be sent.
The physical roll-out of the vaccine is headquartered from an NHS office in London, with doses sent to more than 1,400 vaccine sites across the country.
It is easily the biggest vaccination drive in the history of the health service and many believe it will become an annual programme.
In retaliation, the EU has sent inspectors into the Blegian plant at the centre of supply issues – while also demanding that millions of AstraZeneca jabs made in Britain be shipped over to make up for the shortfalls.
Ministers are also drawing up plans for a ‘transparency mechanism’, due to be published later today, which would give them the ability to block BioNTech jabs made in Europe form coming the other way.
Ministers have refused to accept explanations given by AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot that the EU and UK supply chains are separate, that national favoritism has nothing to do with the delays, and that the true reason is European ministers placed their order three months behind Britain.
Ursula von der Leyen, the German president of the European Commission, said the EU’s deal with the pharmaceutical giant is ‘crystal clear’ that supplies would come from four factories including two in Britain.
The UK signed a deal with AstraZeneca in May for 100million doses all made at labs in Oxford and Staffordshire and put into vials at a facility in Wrexham. The EU signed up for 100million doses of the British-designed jab three months later in August.
Ms von der Leyen said today that AstraZeneca, who warned Brussels this week that its first delivery at the end of March will be down 60 per cent, has offered ‘no plausible reasons’ for production problems.
She told Deutschlandfunk radio: ‘There are binding orders and the contract is crystal clear.’ She said the contract set out delivery amounts for December and the first three quarters of 2021, and also mentioned four production sites, two of which are in Britain.
Her extraordinary statement this morning came as the bloc prepares to today unveil new powers that could see the shipment of millions of vaccine doses to Britain being blocked within days.
As the row over the EU jabs shortage intensifies, the European Commission will set out a mechanism to allow member states to refuse vaccine exports.
The move will heighten fears about whether Britain’s expected supply of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine – which is manufactured in Belgium – could be disrupted. Britain has ordered 40 million doses.
It came as Belgian health authorities revealed they had been sent into an AstraZeneca factory in the town of Seneffe where doses of its vaccine are being made. The commission requested the inspection due to doubts over the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical firm’s explanation for its shortfall in deliveries to the bloc.
To add to the complications, Germany’s top vaccine panel said it is not recommending the AstraZeneca jab only for over-65s because there is not enough evidence on whether it works for the elderly.
Tory MP for Clwyd West, David Jones, said: ‘German efforts to cast doubt on the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine make the EU’s extreme eagerness to get their hands on it all the more perplexing’.
The European Medicines Agency is today due to approve the AstraZeneca jab for use in the bloc but Germany expects the regulator to impose restrictions on who it can be given to.
German health minister Jens Spahn told a press conference: ‘We’re not expecting an authorisation without limits.’
Europe is facing increasing pressure to back down over the vaccine row amid warnings that the continent’s rhetoric is ‘sounding like Donald Trump’.
One EU diplomatic source told The Times: ‘When some Germans are sounding like Donald Trump it is time for everyone to take a deep breath and count to ten. A vaccine war between the EU and UK is one of the worst things that could possibly happen right now.’
But an EU official defended the bloc’s hardline stance, telling The Guardian: ‘In an ideal world, we would not be here, the whole story of vaccination would run smoothly without any problems.
‘But unfortunately we are not in an ideal world, and we have seen over the last weeks that not all works well.’
In other coronavirus developments today:
- It emerged the Covid tiers system could be scrapped after lockdown under plans to ease restrictions on a national basis.
- Boris Johnson and UK health chiefs insisted the AstraZeneca vaccine works for all age groups after German scientists said they will not recommend it for over-65s because they believe there is not yet enough evidence.
- Britain is on course to secure another 60million Covid jabs after a UK-backed vaccine made by US biotech firm Novavax successfully completed its phase three trials, paving the way for regulators to give final approval in the coming weeks.
- Mark Drakeford announced that lockdown restrictions in Wales will remain in force for at least another three weeks as he also said that primary school pupils may start returning to classrooms after the February half-term.
- Data gathered in Israel showed almost all cases of Covid are prevented with two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
- Thousands of British travellers face a race against time to get home from Dubai and Abu Dhabi after ministers said the UAE will be added to the banned ‘red list’ from 1pm today.
The EU has been left furious by AstraZeneca’s announcement that it would have to cut deliveries of its Covid-19 vaccine to the bloc by 60 per cent because of production problems. Brussels has raised questions about whether doses from the factory have secretly been shipped to Britain.
That has led to the EU to reconsider whether jabs being manufactured on the continent should be allowed to leave while it is suffering a supply crisis.
As a result, under the proposals to be finalised today, customs authorities in EU countries will have to notify the commission every time jabs are being sent outside the bloc.
An EU official said: ‘There is a possibility in certain circumstances not to allow the export to move forward. We want to ensure we have a say about where these vaccines are ending up.’
The official insisted that a refusal would happen only in ‘rare cases’ when companies were failing to fulfil their contractual commitments to the EU.
The criteria for blocking exports will be published today, with the mechanism expected to come into force within days.
European Council president Charles Michel, who chairs meetings of EU leaders, backed the use of legal measures to protect the bloc’s vaccine supply.
In a letter to the leaders of four member states, he wrote: ‘The EU needs to take robust action to secure its supply of vaccines and demonstrate concretely that the protection of its citizens remains our absolute priority.’
The EU is facing a shortfall in supply of vaccines after AstraZeneca warned Brussels last week that problems with production in Belgium meant the bloc will receive only a quarter of the 100 million doses it had expected to receive in the first three months of this year.
Boris Johnson could SCRAP ‘confusing’ regional Covid-19 tiers under plan to ease restrictions on a national basis
The Covid tiers system could be scrapped after lockdown under plans to ease restrictions on a national basis, the Mail can reveal.
Boris Johnson is looking again at whether the country should go back to a system of regional tiers, which was credited with slowing the spread of the virus but ultimately failed to head off a third national lockdown.
A return to a national system of restrictions would result in a slower release from lockdown, as areas with low numbers of cases would be forced to wait for others to ‘catch up’ before being allowed to open up.
But some ministers believe that, by removing the risk of transmission from Covid hotspots to other areas, it would be likely to prove more sustainable.
Some also believe it could be less politically divisive than the tiers system, which saw ministers clash with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham amid claims the North was being locked down to protect the South.
A Cabinet Office taskforce started work yesterday on a new exit plan after Mr Johnson pledged a ‘road map’ out of lockdown would be published in the week beginning February 22.
It will draw up a series of ‘metrics’ for easing of different parts of the lockdown, such as vaccination numbers, Covid cases and hospitalisations.
A Public Health England study into the effectiveness of vaccines in slowing transmission of the virus is also said to be critical – as is continuing work on the threat posed by new variants which may be resistant to the vaccines.
The seven-day average of new cases was down by 29.4 per cent yesterday, but hospital numbers remain at a record high and a further 1,239 deaths linked to the virus occurred in 24 hours.
Government sources yesterday denied reports a three-stage plan had been agreed, with schools opening in March, shops in April and the hospitality sector in May.
But one source acknowledged it could be ‘early summer’ before pubs can open their doors again. It is unclear when businesses such as hairdressers and gyms could be allowed to reopen.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said on Wednesday the Government would ‘try to make use of the tiered system’ when devising its exit strategy.
But Mr Johnson ducked questions about whether there would be a return to tiered restrictions.
And a Government source last night confirmed a rethink was underway.
The insider said: ‘We do think the tier system was effective for the situation we faced last year, but we may face different circumstances this spring.
‘Tiers are still an option but we are also looking at whether it would be better to exit from lockdown on a national basis.
‘It will depend to an extent on the geographical spread of the pandemic in a few weeks’ time when we will be able to see if there is still value in trying to do things on a regional basis.’
French health authorities are already struggling with shortages. A number of regions across the country cancelled first-jab appointments that were due to be held in early February, postponing them by at least a month.
German health minister Jens Spahn said the country was likely to face a shortage of vaccines until at least April.
Spain’s Madrid and Cantabria regions have also stopped first vaccinations and are using remaining doses to administer second shots to those who have had the first one.
Portugal, where infections and deaths have spiked to record levels after Christmas, said delivery delays meant that people who have top priority – including health professionals – will all be fully vaccinated by April, around two months later than initially planned. The Netherlands will also struggle to execute its vaccination programme.
News of restrictions in Europe come after Nicola Sturgeon was accused of taking the EU’s side in the bitter vaccine row as she vowed to publish details of the UK’s supplies despite Boris Johnson ordering her to keep them secret.
Despite the PM warning that the information must be confidential to protect the rollout, Ms Sturgeon told Holyrood she will release it from next week ‘regardless of what they say’.
The timing of Ms Sturgeon’s intervention yesterday was particularly provocative given that it came as Mr Johnson was on an official visit to Scotland to make the case for the Union.
Tory MPs vented fury at Ms Sturgeon – who wants Scotland to be independent and rejoin the bloc – saying she is ‘obviously more inclined to help the EU than she is the UK’.
Tory MP Peter Bone told MailOnline: ‘The simple truth is she has a tendency to support the EU rather than the United Kingdom.
‘It is wrong, her behaviour. I would have thought she would praise the success of the UK because Scotland shares in that. If she was in the EU and not part of the UK she would still be waiting for her vaccines. Get behind the UK government and stop playing petty politics.’
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said it would be ‘deeply irresponsible’ for Ms Sturgeon to publish the data.
Tory former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith accused Ms Sturgeon of ‘showboating to try and curry favour’ with the EU.
Sir Iain told The Telegraph the SNP leader ‘should for once in her life, thank the UK Government, for having vaccines so people in Scotland have a better chance of surviving coronavirus than if it was stuck in the EU, which is her dream’.
Tory MP Mr Jones accused Ms Sturgeon of ‘trying to ingratiate herself with the EU, in the hope that if she won a referendum, Scotland would be allowed to join’.
Earlier, MEPs had threatened a ‘trade war’ with the UK over the supply issue as the bloc continued to pile the pressure on AstraZeneca to bail out its shambolic vaccine rollout.
European politicians warned the ‘consequences’ of refusing to divert stocks of the UK-made jabs to EU would be a ban on exports of the Pfizer version from Belgium – suggesting 3.5million doses due to arrive soon could be at risk.
So far both AstraZeneca and Pfizer look to be holding firm against the sabre-rattling from Brussels.
It comes after MEPs warned that the UK would ‘suffer’ for denying the EU, and the bloc’s health commissioner insisted Britain should not receive priority – even though it signed a contract with AstraZeneca three months before Brussels did.
Stella Kyriakides said: ‘We reject the logic of first come, first served. That may work in a butcher’s shop but not in contracts and not in our advanced purchase agreements.’
Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the UK will discuss ‘how we can help’ the EU’s vaccination effort. But asked if the UK might lose out because the EU has not got enough doses, Mr Gove said: ‘No. The programme of vaccination has been agreed and assured and the supplies were fixed some time ago and we will make sure that the vaccine programme proceeds exactly as planned.’
While AstraZeneca has committed to ‘even closer’ co-ordination with EU officials, the company stuck firmly to its guns, saying it had been ‘open’ with the bloc about the ‘complexities’ of scaling up its vaccine production.
The firm also left a small but poignant sting in the tail, with a reminder to European leaders of its commitment to provide millions of vaccines to people across the continent ‘at no profit’ during the pandemic.
EU measures could threaten the delivery of Pfizer vaccines (pictured), as the bloc is said to be suspicious that doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have been secretly shipped from Belgium to Britain
Boris Johnson met armed forces personnel at a youth centre in Castlemilk, Glasgow on Thursday, as he thanked people for their efforts on the coronavirus response
Boris Johnson is shown the Lighthouse Laboratory, used for processing PCR samples for coronavirus, during a visit to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus in Glasgow on Thursday
EU chiefs demanded that AstraZeneca jabs made in Staffordshire and Oxfordshire be diverted to make up for a 75million shortfall on the continent. Pictured: European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen
In an extraordinary move this afternoon, Nicola Sturgeon risked undermining the UK’s position by announcing she will publish details of the country’s vaccine supplies from next week
It comes as the German press (pictured inset: An article in Die Zeit) turned on Brussels as it denounced the EU’s shambolic vaccine rollout as the ‘best advert for Brexit’
Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the UK will discuss ‘how we can help’ the EU’s vaccination effort. But asked if the UK might lose out because the EU has not got enough doses, Mr Gove said: ‘No.’
PM and UK health chiefs insist AstraZeneca vaccine IS effective for ALL age groups after Germany claims jab should not be used on over-65s yet
Boris Johnson and UK health chiefs insisted the AstraZeneca vaccine works for all age groups after German scientists said they will not recommend it for over-65s because they believe there is not yet enough evidence.
The PM and Public Health England struck a bullish note after a Berlin commission said there was ‘insufficient data to assess the efficacy of the vaccine for persons aged 65 years and older’.
British regulators, by contrast, have approved the jab for all age groups – with AstraZeneca pointing to data published in a medical journal showing that 100 per cent of older adults generated antibodies in trials.
Germany’s stance comes amid an angry row between the EU and AstraZeneca over vaccine supplies, with the bloc lagging far behind Britain in immunising its population against Covid-19.
Although it is possible the position could change with more evidence, it raises the prospect of splits between the UK and EU on what vaccines are regarded as effective – with speculation that in the future travel to some destinations could be contingent on having been inoculated.
On a visit to Scotland this afternoon, Mr Johnson said he was not worried about the news from Germany. ‘No, because the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) our own authorities have made it very clear that they think the Oxford-AstraZeneca is very good and efficacious and gives a high degree of protection after just one does and even more after two doses,’ he said.
The PM said the MHRA concluded the vaccine is ‘effective across all age groups’ and ‘provides a good immune response across all age groups’. He added on the German conclusions: ‘So I don’t agree with that.’
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at PHE, said there had been ‘too few cases’ of coronavirus in older people in Phase 3 clinical trial to determine efficacy in this age group, but other data on immune response had been ‘reassuring’.
AstraZeneca said: ‘The latest analyses of clinical trial data for the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine support efficacy in the over 65 years age group.’
Britain is on course to produce 60million more Covid vaccines as UK-based Novavax jab passes phase three trial
Britain was on course to secure another 60million Covid jabs last night after the latest UK-backed vaccine cleared a crucial hurdle.
US biotech firm Novavax announced its vaccine had successfully completed its phase three clinical trials in the UK, paving the way for regulators to give final approval in the coming weeks.
Under a deal with the Government, 60million doses of the vaccine will be produced on Teesside for use in this country, in what could prove to be another triumph for Britain’s world-leading vaccine programme.
Novavax, which will be made at the Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies factory in Stockton-on-Tees according to local reports, last night said the trials had shown its vaccine was 89.3 per cent effective
The trial is the first to be completed since the emergence of the new variant of the disease in Kent. Preliminary analysis suggests the vaccine was 85.6 per cent effective against this mutation.
The two-shot vaccine still requires final approval from the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
But Whitehall sources said that, if the regulatory process goes smoothly, the jabs could start coming on stream this summer, allowing a huge acceleration in the drive to inoculate all adults by the end of September.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the ‘spectacular’ results, adding in a tweet: ‘Good news that the Novavax vaccine has proved effective in UK trials.
‘Thank you to all the volunteers who made these results possible. Our medicines regulator will now assess the vaccine, which will be made in Teesside.’
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said: ‘Having taken part in Novavax’s vaccine trial myself, I am particularly thrilled to see such positive results.’
Two Pfizer doses ‘are 99.96 per cent effective’: Double jab weeks apart prevents almost ALL cases of Covid-19, research in Israel suggests
Almost all cases of Covid are prevented with two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, research suggests.
Data gathered in Israel – which is leading the world in the vaccine rollout – found that just 0.04 per cent of those vaccinated with both doses went on to develop coronavirus.
Of 700,000 people who were vaccinated, just 300 later contracted the virus, with only 16 requiring hospital treatment, according to preliminary data released by Israeli health officials.
The vaccine also protects against the more infectious UK variant of Covid-19, the research suggests.
Professor Eyal Leshem, an Israeli infectious diseases specialist, said the reports were ‘very good news’.
He added: ‘The initial findings are quite incredible.
‘After one dose, the cases fell substantially and after two, there were just 0.4 per cent.
‘Time will tell, we still need to accumulate data but these are very encouraging preliminary reports.’
More than 30 per cent of Israel’s population has received a vaccine, with several studies into its effectiveness under way.
Professor Leshem added: ‘On one hand, we’re seeing very high community transmission rates with 1,000s of cases every day – the highest rates we’ve experienced since the beginning of the outbreak.
‘But when we look specifically at these hundreds of thousands of Israelis that are vaccinated, they don’t get infected.
‘And even in those few cases that get infected, they experience a mild disease – only a handful need to go to the hospital, only a handful experienced severe disease and needed to be admitted to the hospital.
‘It’s what we call real life, ecologic evidence of vaccine efficacy – the high efficacy of the vaccine.’
Ms Sturgeon’s comments came as she was grilled by Tory Ruth Davidson at First Minister’s Questions yesterday afternoon.
Pushed on why Scotland’s vaccinations were happening more slowly than England’s, Ms Sturgeon dismissed claims that the authorities north of the border were sitting on supplies.
And she referenced a previous row with Westminster when the Scottish government published information about supplies, only to be told to withdraw the material.
Ms Sturgeon complained that despite the orders the UK government has been ‘briefing’ the details out, adding: ‘I’ve said to my officials actually, regardless of what they say, I think we will just go back to publishing the actual supply figures from next week so we all have transparency around that.’
According to reports, the Belgian federal medicines agency completed an inspection at the AstraZeneca production site in Seneffe, Hainaut.
Samples and records are said to have been taken and another visit is due in the coming days.
The firm has blamed a production problem at the site, owned by a French life-sciences company, for the reduction in how much supply the EU can expect.
However, there is scepticism in Brussels over the explanation, with un-evidenced claims the UK is being given stocks.
A prominent German MEP warned the UK would ‘suffer’ unless it agreed to the EU’s demands to share more vaccine.
Peter Liese, who is in Angela Merkel’s CDU party, suggested Brussels could block shipments of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, which is made in Belgium.
He said: ‘The BioNTech vaccine, which is only produced in Europe and has been produced with the aid of the German state and European Union money, has been shipped to the United Kingdom.
‘If there is anyone thinking that European citizens would accept that we give this high quality vaccine to the UK and would accept to be treated as second class by a UK-based company, I think that the only consequence can be immediately stopping the export of the BioNtech (vaccine) and then we are in the middle of a trade war.
‘So the company and the UK better think twice. When we see Europe is not treated well, not by the United States and not by the UK, then we have to show our weapons.
‘We need to tell the other companies in the world if we treat the Europeans as second class, you will suffer for this.’
To add to the complications, Germany’s top vaccine panel said it is not recommending the AstraZeneca jab only for over-65s because there is not enough evidence on whether it works for the elderly.
The panel of scientists said the Oxford/AstraZeneca product was ‘considered appropriate’ for 18-65 year-olds but should not be used for older people ‘based on available data’.
‘There is currently insufficient data to assess the efficacy of the vaccine for persons aged 65 years and older,’ it said.
The commission did not lend any credence to the sensational claim published by German media on Monday that the jab was only eight per cent effective among over-65s, a theory debunked by the manufacturers and German health ministry.
Instead, it said there was not enough data to make a decision either way – after AstraZeneca’s boss said the ‘very ethical’ Oxford scientists had slowed down trials on older people until the vaccine was proved to be safe.
Downing Street has refused to rule out giving UK vaccines to the EU once the most vulnerable in the country have been inoculated.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman was repeatedly asked by reporters whether Number 10 was considering the idea.
The spokesman said it ‘remains our priority to vaccinate the most vulnerable people across the UK to ensure we can give those who are at clinical risk protection against the virus’.
Pushed on whether that left the door open to sending vaccines to Europe once the most vulnerable had been jabbed, he added: ‘Phase one includes those who are most vulnerable to the virus – that remains our priority to make sure we get vaccines to all those as quickly as possible.
‘Phase one is groups one to nine (on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation suggested priority list). The mid-February target is the first four groups within that.’
Put to him that after the first nine cohorts had been vaccinated, vaccines could then be shared, the spokesman added: ‘I didn’t say that.’
AstraZeneca warned Brussels last week the problems in Belgium meant the bloc would receive only a quarter of the 100million doses it had expected by April.
A spokesman told MailOnline: ‘Our CEO Pascal Soriot was pleased to participate in a meeting this evening with the EU’s Vaccine Steering Board.
‘We had a constructive and open conversation about the complexities of scaling up production of our vaccine, and the challenges we have encountered.
‘We have committed to even closer co-ordination, to jointly chart a path for the delivery of our vaccine over the coming months as we continue our efforts to bring our vaccine to millions of Europeans at no profit during the pandemic.’
Government sources insisted only once the AZ factories in Oxford and Newcastle-under-Lyme had fulfilled their commitment to the UK will they be free to supply other countries.
The UK signed a deal with AstraZeneca last May to supply 100million doses of the vaccine it developed with Oxford University.
EU nations placed a joint order for 400million doses from AstraZeneca three months later, in August, to be made at two sites on the continent, as well as the two UK sites.
The resultant 75million shortfall in the first three months of this year has caused a major row between the two sides.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘The fact is that we ordered the vaccine three months before the EU.
‘The EU are coming out with a very strange excuse for botching their procurement of vaccine at the moment.
‘They’re saying that the reason it took them three months longer than the UK to order the vaccine is because they were negotiating for better prices for and better value for money, which is ludicrous when the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, our own UK vaccine, is being produced at cost at £3 a dose subsidised by the UK taxpayer.
‘I don’t know how you get better value for that.
‘The EU then insisted on the contract that they did sign with AstraZeneca that they get delivery at the same time as the UK, which had ordered it three months before.
‘Obviously that’s going to be produced in Belgium at a new facility they’re setting up.
‘AstraZeneca made the EU aware that was going to be very difficult but they promised to make best efforts, that was in the contract.’
Aaron Bell, a Tory member of the Commons science committee, said: ‘I understand and sympathise with the EU’s disappointment that AstraZeneca is having yield issues at its Belgian plant, but the suggestion that the UK’s supply should be diverted to the continent is clearly inappropriate.’
Tensions rose when Mr Soriot told European newspapers in an interview on Tuesday that the supply schedule for the EU was not a ‘commitment’ but agreed as a ‘best effort’.
He said that as Brussels had signed its supply contract three months later than the UK it had left less time to sort out production ‘glitches’ at sites on the continent.
‘The contract with the UK was signed first and the UK, of course, said ‘you supply us first’, and this is fair enough,’ he added.
But Miss Kyriakides flatly rejected the argument and demanded the vaccines being made in the UK for domestic use be exported to the EU.
At a briefing in Brussels, she said: ‘There is no hierarchy of the factories.
The EU’s health commissioner last night insisted that Britain should not receive priority – even though the UK signed a contract with Astra-Zeneca three months before the bloc did. Pictured: AstraZeneca office building in Brussels
Britons dash for last flights home from Dubai before 1pm travel ban comes in TODAY
Models and social media influencers are among thousands of British travellers facing a race home today to avoid being stranded in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
The scramble to get a flight comes after ministers added the United Arab Emirates to the so-called red list of countries from where travel to the UK is prohibited.
Some British passengers including make-up artist Amy Wilson from Glasgow said they had just managed to get home just before the ban on direct inbound passenger flights from the UAE to Britain comes into effect at 1pm today.
Ms Wilson tweeted: ‘Can’t believe how lucky me and Jack have been with flights. Got back from Turkey two hours before the quarantine deadline and getting the last flight home from Dubai before the UK closes its boarders to the UAE. Someone’s looking out for me.’
But others including Only Fans model Honey Evans from Leeds said they would stay out in Dubai. She tweeted: ‘Flights from Dubai to the UK are banned. Guess I have no choice but to stay out here. Shame.’
Emirates and Etihad Airways said all UK passenger flights from the UAE have been suspended, although British Airways told passengers that some were still running.
Up to 10,000 UK residents are thought to be in the country, which is popular with wealthy winter sun-seekers for its luxurious hotels and beaches.
Scores of social media influencers and millionaires have flocked there recently.
Ministers announced the move at 5pm yesterday, giving holidaymakers less than 24 hours to scramble for tickets on the handful of direct flights scheduled to arrive in the UK before the deadline.
Britons will still be allowed to come back on indirect flights. Business trips to the UAE will no longer be considered essential.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps tweeted last night: ‘From Friday 29 January at 1pm, we’re extending our travel ban with the United Arab Emirates, Burundi and Rwanda all added to the UK’s red list.
‘This means people who have been in or transited through these countries will be denied entry, except British, Irish and third country nationals with residence rights who must self-isolate for ten days at home.’
‘You are aware in the contracts there are four factories listed but it does not differentiate between the UK and Europe.
‘The UK factories are part of our advance purchase agreements and that is why they have to deliver.’
The commissioner said the EU was losing people to the pandemic every day, adding: ‘These are not numbers. They’re not statistics. These are persons with families with friends and colleagues that have been affected as well.
‘Pharmaceutical companies, vaccine developers, have moral societal and contractual responsibilities which they need to uphold.
‘The view that the company is not obliged to deliver because we signed a best effort agreement is neither correct nor is it acceptable.
‘The 27 European Union member states are united that AstraZeneca needs to deliver on its commitments in our agreements.’
Following talks with AstraZeneca, Miss Kyriakides tweeted on Wednesday evening: ‘We regret the continued lack of clarity on the delivery schedule and request a clear plan from AstraZeneca for the fast delivery of the quantity of vaccines that we reserved.’
It was also reported Britain had ordered enough vaccines for the year – of 367million doses, enough for 5.5 per person – and could end up dishing them out to other countries anyway – meaning EU countries would benefit.
A source told the Times: ‘There is plenty of vaccine. It exceeds what the government wants to do.’
The industry insider also told the newspaper the demands from Brussels were ‘political rhetoric’ and would be a ‘human rights issue’ if they did try to divert doses.
They said: ‘They cannot stop vaccines that are contracted for delivery. Some of these vaccines have already been given to people who are due to receive their second dose. It would be a human rights issue for millions of people if that process was stopped.’
Mr Johnson said it would have been a ‘great pity’ if the UK had stayed in the EU’s vaccine programme rather than set up its own plan.
‘I do think that we’ve been able to do things differently, and better, in some ways,’ the Prime Minister told MPs. More than a tenth of the UK population has received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
This compares to just 1.75 per cent in France, 1.96 per cent in Germany, 2.50 per cent in Spain and 2.15 per cent in Italy.
Meanwhile experts revealed how Britain’s vaccine roll out will limit the spread of coronavirus, but by exactly how much will not be made clear until mid-February.
Providing a boost to the UK’s hopes of ending lockdown, England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said jabs ‘couldn’t fail to have some effect on transmission’.
He said it was less a question of ‘will they?’ and rather ‘to what extent’ will inoculation help to reduce the spread.
But Mr Johnson and his chief scientists said last night that experts won’t know much effect the coronavirus vaccines are having on the country’s epidemic until mid-February.
These set of graphs show the number of vaccines ordered by the UK and the EU. The EU has also ordered a number of other vaccines, including 300million Sanofi-GSK doses and 405million CureVac doses
The PM said the impact of the jabs won’t be felt in hospital and deaths data until then due to the lag in time it takes between getting injected and developing immunity.
He told a Downing Street press conference tonight that he would not consider lifting lockdown restrictions until he’d seen concrete ‘evidence that those graphs are coming down’.
The immunisation drive has only really got up to speed in the last few weeks and it takes between a fortnight and a month for a person to build up immunity.
Both the Pfizer and Oxford University vaccines have been proven to block severe illness, so experts hope they’ll start to make a dent in the death and hospitalisation rates in the coming weeks.
No10’s scientists will be monitoring those metrics, specifically in the most vulnerable groups – including the over-80s, over-75s and care homes residents – who are currently receiving the jabs.
So far 6.8million, or one in 10, people in Britain have received at least one dose of the vaccines. In three weeks time, when most of those people have protection, experts will expect to see a near 10 per cent drop in hospital admissions.
Not all of the people vaccinated will be immune, however, because the jabs are not perfect. Pfizer’s is 95 per cent effective at blocking severe disease, while Oxford’s is around 70 per cent.
Another burning question which will determine how gung-ho ministers can be with easing restriction is to what extent the vaccines stop people from spreading Covid.
The Government has commissioned a study to investigate the vaccines and their role on transmission, which is being overseen by Public Health England. It is focused on frontline healthcare workers who’ve been jabbed.
England’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, told a Downing Street press conference earlier this week: ‘I think you’ve got to be extremely cautious and wait until we’ve got proper data.
‘It’s too early to say what’s happening in the UK. It’s being looked at very, very carefully. You shouldn’t expect to see nobody getting ill who’s been vaccinated. Vaccines are not 100 per cent effective. We will still see people who get disease.
‘We will still see people who get severe disease, but it will be much, much reduced with the vaccine, and we need to wait and look at the data and get proper estimates of that rather than try to make early cuts and guesses as to what this is showing.’
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