Macron says Oxford vaccine doesn’t work for over-65s

Emmanuel Macron has dismissed the Oxford University/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine, saying it “doesn’t work” for the over-65s.

The French President’s intervention came on the same day the EU introduced new measures to block exports of life-saving jabs to the UK, further souring relations over AstraZeneca not being able to supply 25% of the doses it originally agreed to sell to the bloc.

“The real problem with AstraZeneca is just that it doesn’t work as expected, because there we have very little information,” said Macron.

“Today, everything suggests that it is almost ineffective for those over 65, and some say over 60.”

The question mark over the vaccine’s effectiveness stems from German newspaper Handelsblatt, which claimed the jab was only 8% effective for the over 65s without providing any evidence to prove it. The German health ministry then clarified the 8% referred to the low fraction of participants in clinical trials drawn from that age group.

The health ministry added there was “insufficient data” on the vaccine’s effectiveness against Covid-19 for pensioners. On Friday, the European Medicines Agency approved the Oxford vaccine for all age groups.

However, at a critical moment with the EU demanding AstraZeneca supply 50 million doses while also blocking exports of the Pfizer vaccine to the UK, Macron has sought to muddy the waters, first darkened by the dodgy Handelsblatt claim.

“Imagine the hypothesis that the British finish their vaccine campaign with success, what will they do? Stop European lorries from entering, when there is a total dependence on the continent. Bon courage [good luck with that],” Macron told the Guardian.

“And imagine the hypothesis that France, Italy, Germany have a vaccine strategy that is extremely ambitious and rapid. It will quickly fail if our neighbours don’t have the same vaccine strategy because our economies are integrated. France has 500,000 trans-border workers. So all this will only work if we do it together.”

Speaking at the Elysee Palace Macron denied the EU was putting an export ban in place but in the same breath said, “questionable behaviour” should be “controlled” because the EU “will be receiving fewer deliveries that do not honour the contractual engagements agreed.”

Europe “will be proportional” in its response to the supply shortfall, he added. “But we cannot have contractual agreements made with laboratories then reviewed because of pressure from one or other countries. The situation with vaccines is unusual, but I believe strongly in the benefits of cooperation.”

Behind the scenes, the EU is planning to escalate even further. European Council president Charles Michel has asked EU member states to look into legal powers and “enforcement measures” to accelerate vaccine production.

According to the Telegraph, Michel sent a letter to EU leaders on Wednesday raising the possibility of activating the EU’s Article 122 powers, which would give it wartime-like authority to seize intellectual property and even control of manufacturing facilities “if severe difficulties arise in the supply of certain products.”

“We must therefore spare no effort, at our end, to ensure the timely vaccination of our citizens,” Michel told leaders during a teleconference of EU leaders last weekend when the AstraZeneca supply issue first stoked blind panic on the back of Pfizer announcing it would pause deliveries to retrofit its Belgian production facility.

“We can do this very quickly,” said an EU official. “We have to be prepared. That does not mean we will necessarily use it.”

Judging by Emmanuel Macron’s comments today, they probably would.