Europhile MPs have seen their reputations tarnished for having demanded Britain join the EU’s vaccine troubled programme.
The UK and Europe are currently locked in a bitter dispute over the availability of vaccines after AstraZeneca, which manufactures the Covid jab developed with Oxford University, told EU leaders it would not be able to meet its supply commitment of 80 million doses by the end of March. Instead, just over half that amount will be available for distribution across Europe in the coming months.
The EU responded by threatening an export ban on the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine manufactured in Belgium, alongside claims the Oxford vaccines is largely ineffective for people aged over 65.
“The EU are nasty and vindictive on vaccines” tweeted Nigel Farage this afternoon.
According to a German assessment of the vaccine, the Oxford jab is only 8% effective against Covid-19 in older people, making it “insufficient”. However, British-Swedish conglomerate, AstraZeneca says the claim is “completely incorrect” and “unsubstantiated”.
Tensions are high as the EU struggles to source enough of the Pfizer vaccine, the only jab it has approved so far. A refit at Pfizer’s European facility has put a pause on production causing a row over contingencies such as buying plenty of the Oxford vaccine.
But to the anger of Brussels, AstraZeneca has told EU bureaucrats, supply will fall 30 million doses short of the amount originally agreed.
AstraZeneca is being accused of withholding supply so they can make bigger margins selling to non-EU countries, but AZ is struggling to source enough doses partly because it is overwhelmed with separate supply commitments to France, Germany and Italy as well as the UK. These countries struck supply deals before the EU arrived on the scene in July, representing all 27 member states.
Since then, the EU’s approach has been widely described as shambolic, primarily due to slow approval of vaccines – the Oxford jab is only expected to be passed by regulators this week – but also suggestions the French blocked bigger supply contracts with the likes of Pfizer and AstraZeneca so that their struggling Sanofi vaccine could eventually get in on the action with a large share of the orders. It was announced today that France’s other hope being developed by the Louis Paster Institute has been shelved. Germany has given injections to less than two million people. Britain tops the chart (see below) with almost 6.5 million jabs.
Pro-EU politicians in Westminster now have egg on their face, having slammed the government for not joining the EU’s vaccine programme in the summer.
In July, Lib Dem leader Ed Davey called for Boris Johnson to “confirm that the UK will take part in the EU vaccine plan,” adding “this is no time for silly Brexit games.”
Davey was joined by Layla Moran who tweeted: “Walking away from the EU vaccines scheme is putting ideology ahead of public health. You would think that during a pandemic ministers would put political dogma aside. But it seems for this government it’s Brexit over vaccines.”
The ideology argument was repeated by Labour’s Bell Ribeiro-Addy, while the SNP’s Brexit spokesperson, Philippa Whitford described the government’s decision to opt-out of the EU’s scheme as “increasingly isolationist” and would “hinder the ability to tackle the virus effectively.”
But in the government’s view, vaccine procurement is not a question of “dogma”, but plain common sense.
“We have chosen not to join the EU scheme on vaccine purchase. The reason is that it wouldn’t have allowed us to have a say in the vaccines that were procured, the price, the quantity, or the delivery schedule,” said health secretary, Matt Hancock in July.
“We are further ahead than the EU schemes are. We would have joined the EU scheme if they had allowed us also to continue with our own negotiations, but one of the conditions of the scheme was that we would have had to stop our own negotiations and only do them through the European Commission and we weren’t prepared to do that.
“We think we will go faster this way.”