The UK could send spare coronavirus vaccines to Ireland after the EU humiliatingly backed down in the bitter row over threat to British supplies.
The success of the drive to secure jabs could mean that by the summer stocks can be shared with other countries – as Boris Johnson warned the pandemic cannot be tackled in isolation.
Downing Street is trying to draw a line under the extraordinary spat with Brussels that saw Ursula von der Leyen threaten to impose a hard border on the island of Ireland to prevent vaccines from the EU getting into the UK.
The commission president – under huge pressure over the bungled rollout on the continent – dropped the idea after a furious international backlash.
However, there is mounting speculation that the UK could soon be helping neighbours inoculate their populations – with Ireland expected to be first in line.
Britain added further to its stocks this morning, announcing that another 40million doses of the Valneva vaccine – which is being manufactured in Scotland – has been ordered. Meanwhile, a new record of 600,000 jabs were administered in 24 hours as the UK pushes to have the four most vulnerable groups covered by February 15.
Downing Street has suggested no jabs will be diverted abroad before February 15, when the 15million most vulnerable are due to have been vaccinated.
But yesterday Trade Secretary Liz Truss was asked directly whether jabs could be sent abroad before September, when all British adults are due to have been offered the vaccine, and replied: ‘That could well be the case.’
Boris Johnson (left) is trying to draw a line under the extraordinary spat with Brussels that saw Ursula von der Leyen (right) threaten to impose a hard border on the island of Ireland to prevent vaccines from the EU getting into the UK
Every elderly care home resident across England has now been offered their first Covid vaccination, as figures yesterday showed another record-breaking day for jabs across the UK
Mr Johnson was out training this morning as the battle against coronavirus continues
UK orders 40million more doses of Valneva’s Covid vaccine
The Government has ordered an extra 40 million doses of the Valneva Covid-19 vaccine which is being manufactured in Scotland.
The move means 100 million doses of Valneva have now been put on order, enough for every adult in the UK, with the latest batch earmarked for delivery in 2022.
The Government has also retained options over a further 90 million doses for supply between 2023 and 2025.
Valneva said the total value of the entire order was up to 1.4 billion euro (£1.24 billion).
The vaccine is still in clinical trials, with the early-stage phase 1/2 study expected to read out within the next three months.
The jab is expected to be given as two doses and is being made at a site in West Lothian, with the Government saying the new deal ‘will bolster long-term vaccine production in Scotland’.
In a series of phone calls on Friday night, Boris Johnson secured a double victory over Brussels.
First Mrs von der Leyen dropped the threat to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which would have shut the border.
Then Mr Johnson secured a ‘guarantee’ that Brussels would also ditch plans to block the export of vaccines from the EU to the UK.
The climbdowns came after he warned the Brussels chief her plans would put at risk the lives of pensioners waiting for their second dose of the Pfizer jab, wreck the EU’s reputation as a place for international firms to do business and undermine the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Ms von der Leyen tried to put a brave face on the embarrassing volte face last night, telling reporters there would be exports from UK factories to the EU.
‘I was glad that he guaranteed that the two factories who produce AstraZeneca will of course supply to Europe, just as European vaccine doses for example from BioNTech are being delivered to Britain,’ she said.
However, it appears that – unlike the EU – the UK has secured priority access to AstraZeneca supplies under its contract.
Sources told the Daily Telegraph that Ireland would receive spare jabs first.
And Mr Johnson said jabs need to be distributed as there’s ‘no point’ in one country being vaccinated.
In an online ‘People’s PMQs’ session, he warned that there is ‘no point one country on its own getting vaccinated’.
In interviews yesterday Ms Truss said: ‘It won’t benefit people in Britain if we become a vaccinated island and many other countries don’t have the vaccine.’
In more good news about the UK’s rollout, social care minister Helen Whately said this morning that the the coronavirus vaccine has been offered to every care home in England, apart from a handful suffering outbreaks.
‘We have offered a vaccine to every care home where it is possible to go in,’ she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘Any care home that hasn’t been contacted, just let me know and I will personally follow up. I can be contacted on my ministerial email address.’
Ms Whately said they are continuing to work through the social care workforce.
‘We are determined by February 15 to have offered the vaccine to all the social care workforce,’ she said.
As an international backlash against the bloc gathered pace, Brussels was forced to reassure Canada that its contracted supplies from Pfizer’s factory in Belgium would not be disrupted. Japan warned against acting in a ‘nationalistic’ way, and South Korea said ‘global disunity’ would hinder the fight.
Ms Truss yesterday said the Government could now ‘absolutely guarantee’ that people would get their second Pfizer dose – and that vaccines ordered from plants in the EU would continue to arrive.
The Government has ordered an extra 40million doses of the Valneva Covid-19 vaccine which is being manufactured in Scotland
Trade Secretary Liz Truss was asked directly yesterday whether jabs could be sent abroad before September, when all British adults are due to have been offered the vaccine, and replied: ‘That could well be the case.’
She said Mrs von der Leyen had promised the Prime Minister ‘there will be no disruption of contracts that we have with any producer in the EU’.
In a further sign of compromise, Mrs von der Leyen said yesterday that the EU was accepting an offer of an additional nine million doses of vaccine from AstraZeneca – after the row started last week because the manufacturer said it would be delivering just 31million doses to the EU before the end of March, less than half the amount originally planned, due to production issues.
Irish premier Micheal Martin yesterday confirmed he had not been informed in advance of the EU’s plan to partially close the border with Northern Ireland. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that Brussels appeared to have been ‘blindsided’ about the implications for the island of Ireland.
Unionists stepped up calls for the scrapping of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has been blamed for post-Brexit shortages in the Province.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said ministers should now act to get rid of the ‘insidious effects’ of the protocol. Mr Martin insisted the protocol, which is designed to prevent a hard border, was ‘a good thing’.
But, in a conciliatory move, he acknowledged there were ‘issues that we have to fine tune and work out’. Even the EU’s most ardent backers condemned its recent actions, with Tony Blair describing the bloc’s behaviour as ‘very foolish’.