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Macron leads EU hardliners STILL pushing for vaccine export ban

Emmanuel Macron is leading a group of hardline EU nations who are continuing to push for a vaccine export ban to the UK after European leaders failed to back halting shipments at a summit last night.

France, Italy and Spain are continuing to talk tough ahead of negotiations with London this weekend concerning a disputed 10million doses from a Dutch AstraZeneca plant, some of which are bound for Britain.

Brussels accuses AstraZeneca of reneging on its contract to supply the bloc with 120million doses in the first quarter, having only delivered 30million so far.

The UK has received considerably more doses per capita, and has inoculated 14million people with the Oxford-developed jab from plants in Britain. The UK is also believed to have approximately 10million in storage for second doses. 

Britain points out that it negotiated a tighter ‘exclusivity’ contract with the Anglo-Swedish firm and signed the deal earlier than the EU’s ‘best efforts’ contracts – and that EU vaccine factories rely on supplies from the UK so any trade war could shut down vaccine production completely.

When Pfizer doses are included, the EU says it has exported 21million doses to the UK, while none have been shipped from Britain to the EU.

EU leaders last night stepped back from the brink of imposing a vaccine embargo – which was being pushed by the under-fire Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – after Angela Merkel and Dutch PM Mark Rutte instead called for a diplomatic approach.

Ahead of the weekend talks, cabinet minister Robert Jenrick said it would be ‘very damaging if countries started to pull up drawbridges and prevent vaccines, medicines or elements of them from crossing international borders’.

The Communities Secretary this morning refused to be drawn on whether Britain – where critical vaccine components are also manufactured – would respond with a tit-for-tat ban, saying ‘that kind of talk is unhelpful’.

But hardline EU nations justified their support for halting shipments of vaccine by accusing the UK of failing to export any doses to the Continent.

Throwing his weight firmly behind the ban, Macron fumed: ‘Europe is not a selfish continent. Because when I read what the press on the other side of the Channel writes, we’re being accused of being selfish. Wrong! We let our supply chains untouched.

‘But we saw that the United States tend to protect their own vaccine production… that the United Kingdom did not export many doses. Actually, none. So we put in place an export control mechanism.’

Emmanuel Macron speaking after the summit and gesturing to a graph which appears to show the shortfall in doses from AstraZeneca (far right bar on his graph). He struck a defiant as he called the blockade threat ‘the end of naivety’

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen maintained the tough stance, telling the news conference that AstraZeneca 'has to honour the contract it has with the European member states, before it can engage again in exporting vaccines'

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen maintained the tough stance, telling the news conference that AstraZeneca ‘has to honour the contract it has with the European member states, before it can engage again in exporting vaccines’

The UK's vaccine rollout has surged far ahead of the EU's leaving the bloc under huge pressure to explain why

The UK’s vaccine rollout has surged far ahead of the EU’s leaving the bloc under huge pressure to explain why

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for a statement after video conference of EU leaders at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for a statement after video conference of EU leaders at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany

Statistics from the MHRA show that while 78 per cent of all first doses were Pfizer jabs between December 8 and January 24, this split reversed between February 7 and March 7 so that it only accounted for 34 per cent. Just nine per cent of all first doses in the week to March 7 (200,000) were supplied by Pfizer

Statistics from the MHRA show that while 78 per cent of all first doses were Pfizer jabs between December 8 and January 24, this split reversed between February 7 and March 7 so that it only accounted for 34 per cent. Just nine per cent of all first doses in the week to March 7 (200,000) were supplied by Pfizer

Britain’s vaccine rollout continues apace while EU lags behind  

The UK’s vaccine programme continues apace while the EU remains beset with supply difficulties and low take-up rates.

While Britain has jabbed more than half of its adults, the EU lags on about 15 per cent.

Brussels’ problems can be traced to sluggish initial efforts to procure vaccine – which even Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has compared to a ‘tanker’ to the UK’s ‘speedboat’.

After coming in for criticism, Boris Johnson has won plaudits for opting out of the EU’s centralised buying scheme and deciding to go it alone.

The UK’s vaccine taskforce bet big on several manufacturers early in the pandemic, quickly ordering 40million Pfizer/BioNTech doses and 100million Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs before they had even been cleared.

Early approval by the UK medical regulator also meant the UK was quick off the mark to start inoculating citizens last December.

A strategy of prioritising first doses – leaving a 12-week gap until the second – is also helping the country streak ahead in terms of vaccination rates.

In contrast, the EU was flat-footed to procure doses, signing deals months after the UK. Britain points out this is why AstraZeneca is honouring its contract with the UK.

Many EU countries also suspended the AstraZeneca jab briefly this month for fear of blood clotting, before u-turning when the EMA ruled it was safe.

Doubt cast on the jab has fuelled scepticism from citizens and beset the EU with low take-up rates. 

At the meeting Von der Leyen briefed leaders that the UK needs the vaccine manufactured in the EU because the AstraZeneca jabs made in the UK are not enough to inoculate citizens with second doses.

She threatened to block AstraZeneca vaccine exports to Britain until the firm ‘catches up’ on its deliveries to the Continent.

Britain has vaccinated more than half of its adult population, while the EU has only managed to inoculate about 15 per cent. 

The export ban was backed by France, Spain and Italy, but failed to pass after countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden and Denmark stressed the need for robust global supply chains.

Mr Jenrick this morning agreed, telling Sky News: ‘Vaccines are based on complex international supply chains.

‘There are elements of the vaccines being produced in the UK, there are elements being produced in parts of the European Union and indeed all over the world – we are working with the Serum Institute, for example, in India.

‘So it is critical for all countries that there is the free flow of medical products, including vaccines, across international borders and it would be very damaging if countries started to pull up drawbridges and prevent vaccines, medicines or elements of them from crossing international borders and the UK strongly opposes that.’ 

But Von der Leyen maintained the tough stance, telling a news conference that AstraZeneca ‘has to honour the contract it has with the European member states, before it can engage again in exporting vaccines.’

‘We could have been much faster if all pharmaceutical companies had fulfilled their contracts,’ she added. ‘AstraZenaca has committed to a lower number of doses than was contracted.’ 

AstraZeneca is expected to deliver 30million doses to the EU in the first quarter, a pledge already radically reduced from the 120million doses it was initially contracted to provide. 

Von der Leyen said since the beginning of December, companies in the EU had sent 77million doses of Covid vaccines out of the bloc – with an EU official noting that more than a quarter of those went to Britain. 

It comes despite an apparent effort to ease tensions on Wednesday night when the EU agreed to put out a joint statement with the UK ‘to create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all our citizens.’

US vaccine-maker Pfizer, which ships jabs from Europe to Britain, echoed Boris Johnson’s sentiments as it warned the bloc that export controls risked creating a ‘lose-lose’ situation for everyone.   

Macron and Merkel are feeling the heat domestically as they battle soaring infection rates amid a third wave of the virus which has brought yet more scrutiny on their woeful vaccine roll-outs.  

Newly-Brexited Britain has managed 46 doses per 100 people in the population, this compares to just 14 doses per 100 in Germany and 13 per 100 in France, which prides itself on its well-endowed public healthcare system. 

 

AstraZeneca lost £21 BILLION in profits from selling Covid vaccine cheaply 

By Matt Oliver for the Daily Mail 

Astrazeneca sacrificed over £21billion of revenues by selling its Covid vaccine at no profit, it emerged last night.

The British company has pledged to produce 3billion doses of the life-saving jab it developed with Oxford University for an average price of just $5 (£3.60) globally – the minimum needed to recover costs.

Its decision to forego huge profits is an unprecedented move by a multinational business, prompting the World Health Organisation to hail the jab as a ‘vaccine for the world’.

But critics in the EU have tried to round on the company over supply chain problems and blame it for the bloc’s vaccine rollout. Some have even accused the firm of ‘dishonesty’ and of secretly hoarding jabs.

The attacks are said to have left bosses at Astra dismayed. More than one senior figure is said to have suggested that they wouldn’t make the same decision again.

If profit had been its main goal, Astra could have boosted its bottom line significantly.

The Mail understands that had the firm doubled the price per jab to £7.30, it could have made an extra £11billion in revenues. Tripling it would have netted over £21billion.  

Merkel said after the summit: ‘We are on the one hand inclined to respect global supply chains and want to fight protectionism, but of course we also want to protect our own people because we know this is the way out of the crisis. In relation to Britain, we want a win-win situation, we want to act sensibly politically.’ 

Europe’s intransigence comes after an extraordinary rebuke from the former Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker who called Europe’s vaccine war with Britain ‘stupid.’ 

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz also warned that a failure to resolve grievances between member states over how many doses each would receive risked ‘damage to the EU like we haven’t seen in a long time.’ 

Von der Leyen referenced the third wave that is gripping much of Europe and which has caused ratcheting tensions between nations over how many vaccine doses they will be allocated. 

Merkel, under pressure in Germany after making a U-turn on plans for an extended Easter holiday to stop the spread, defended the EU’s decision to procure vaccines jointly for all member states.

‘Now that we see that even small differences in the distribution of vaccines cause big discussions, I would not like to imagine if some member states had vaccines and others did not,’ she told German lawmakers ahead of the summit. ‘That would shake the internal market to its core.’ 

The EU’s executive unveiled the plans on Wednesday to tighten oversight of vaccine exports that would allow greater scope to block shipments to countries with higher inoculation rates. 

A draft of the summit conclusions seen by Reuters said on vaccines that leaders would stress ‘the importance of … export authorisations’, and reaffirm that vaccine producers must be respect contractual delivery deadlines.

However, diplomats said countries with misgivings about a tougher stand on exports would not put up strong resistance.

‘Their message is … please act very cautiously, in a very balanced way,’ said one EU diplomat. ‘But there is nobody who says don’t do it.’ 

The two-day summit will conclude on Friday. 

It comes after the EU and the UK on Wednesday night issued a joint statement pledging to work together after Boris Johnson warned that businesses could flee the bloc’s borders if it imposed ‘arbitrary’ blockades.

And Health Secretary Matt Hancock delivered another blunt rebuke, insisting that the UK’s contract with AstraZeneca was fundamentally better than the EU’s.

‘I believe that free trading nations follow the law of contracts,’ he told the FT. ‘They have a ”best efforts” contract and we have an exclusivity deal.’  

The Prime Minister said he was ‘on the side of openness’ in trade in vaccines. He said: ‘One thing I am firmly libertarian about is free trade and I don’t want to see blockades of vaccines or of medicines, I don’t think that’s the way forward either for us or for any of our friends.’ 

Ahead of the talks, Mr Kurz took aim at the EU’s joint procurement system, which is meant to split up supplies based on the size of population.

‘The word solidarity is always being called upon and used so often in the European Union – people are trying to take care of the whole world,’ Mr Kurz said. 

‘And when member states have a lot less vaccines available to them than others, then I think this is a big issue for Europe. I would even go so far as to say that I think that when there is no solution, this could cause damage to the European Union like we haven’t seen in a long time.’  

Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz  accused other member states of taking more than their fair share of jabs, warning that failure to resolve their grievances risked 'damage to the EU like we haven't seen in a long time'

Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz  accused other member states of taking more than their fair share of jabs, warning that failure to resolve their grievances risked ‘damage to the EU like we haven’t seen in a long time’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the EU's joint procurement approach in a speech to the Bundestag

German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the EU’s joint procurement approach in a speech to the Bundestag

The EU summit is taking place via video link after the council admitted that the pandemic prevented them meeting in person

The EU summit is taking place via video link after the council admitted that the pandemic prevented them meeting in person

On a visit to a nursery in London, Mr Johnson said he was 'on the side of openness' in trade in vaccines

On a visit to a nursery in London, Mr Johnson said he was ‘on the side of openness’ in trade in vaccines

Now India bans AstraZeneca exports to keep jabs for their own population in fresh blow to Britain’s supply chain woes after EU threatened an embargo until deliveries are met 

India has banned AstraZeneca exports in a fresh blow to Britain’s supply chain woes after the EU last night threatened an embargo until deliveries are met.

A second wave is gripping the country and there is increased demand for the doses made by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine-maker.

The SII has been told to stop all exports until India’s needs can be met, sources at the health ministry in Delhi revealed. 

But India last night sought to reassure its international customers that they would get their shipments of vaccine, including Britain which has a pending order for 5 million doses.

Another 53,000 cases were recorded on Wednesday, the highest single-day tally for five months.

Fifty-three million Indians have received at least one dose of a vaccine, but Prime Minister Narendra Modhi has set a target of 300 million by June in the country of 1.4 billion. 

A government source said it had not imposed any ban on vaccine exports ‘unlike many other countries,’ and that it would continue to supply doses in phases. 

‘We remain committed to help the world with vaccines, including through the COVAX facility,’ the source told Reuters.

However, a health ministry source told The Times: ‘Other countries will get supplies only if there are vaccines left over after keeping enough for our own population.’ 

The move will also affect supplies to the GAVI/WHO-backed global COVAX vaccine-sharing facility, through which 64 poorer countries are supposed to get doses from the SII, the programme’s procurement and distributing partner UNICEF told Reuters.

Deliveries will be delayed in March and April ‘as the government of India battles a new wave of COVID-19 infections,’ GAVI, an alliance of countries, companies and charities that promote vaccination, said in a statement.

COVAX was in talks with India to ‘ensure some supplies are completed during March and April,’ it said, adding that the SII had supplied 28 million doses to COVAX. An additional 40 million doses had been expected in March and up to 50 million doses in April.

An Indian government source said it may be necessary to adjust supply schedules given India’s vaccination needs.

‘All stakeholders would have to work together to adjust the schedules as required,’ the source said.

India’s foreign ministry and the SII did not reply to requests for comment.

‘Everything else has taken a backseat (to India’s needs), for the time being at least,’ said one of the sources.

‘No exports, nothing till the time the India situation stabilises. The government won’t take such a big chance at the moment when so many need to be vaccinated in India.’

India has so far exported more than 60.5 million doses in total, according to the foreign ministry’s website, and many countries are relying on the COVAX programme to immunise their citizens. 

The SII has already delayed shipments of the AstraZeneca drug to Brazil, Britain, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.

British authorities are in touch with Delhi to get its second batch of 5 million doses ordered from SII.

 

Earlier, the French president admitted that the bloc had not gone ‘fast enough or strong enough’ on on vaccines.

But Mr Macron seemingly could not bring himself to acknowledge the UK’s stunning progress, instead heaping praise on the US for ‘shooting for the stars’. 

Speaking to the Bundestag this morning, Angela Merkel appeared to accept that the EU’s contracts were not as strong as the UK’s. 

‘British production sites are manufacturing for Britain and the United States is not exporting, so we are reliant on what we can make in Europe,’ she said.

Insisting production within the bloc must be ramped up, she added: ‘We have to assume that the virus, with its mutations, may be occupying us for a long time to come so the question goes far beyond this year.’

However, she also tried to defend the EU’s decision to procure vaccines jointly – something that has been blamed for making it less nimble than the UK.  

The Europeans are angry that UK-based pharma giant AstraZeneca has failed to meet its vaccine delivery promises to them while ensuring smoother supplies to former member Britain, who ordered their doses months earlier.

It has emerged that Brussels bureaucrats even ordered a raid on an Italian vaccine factory in a bid to grab British jabs – only to find doses destined for the world’s poorest nations and the people of Europe. 

The looming third wave of coronavirus infections and Europe’s struggle to mount a vaccination drive will dominate the video summit, where leaders of the 27 states will also be addressed by US President Joe Biden. 

The bloc stepped back from the brink of a vaccine war with Britain last night following a furious backlash by member states.

In an apparent climbdown, the European Commission agreed a joint statement with the UK offering to work to find a ‘win-win’ solution to the row.

The statement came at the end of a day of brinkmanship in which Brussels tabled proposals allowing it to block the export of vaccines to the UK.

Mr Johnson warned that blockading life-saving vaccine supplies would do lasting reputational damage to the EU and deter international firms from wanting to invest there.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt branded the proposed export ban ‘idiotic’ and warned it could wreck the EU’s relations with Britain for years.

‘Step by step the EU is destroying the possibility of a long-term partnership and friendship with its closest neighbour,’ he said.

Other Tory MPs branded the threats ‘mind-blowingly stupid’. 

Even senior MEPs warned that the EU had pulled out the ‘shotgun’ but was at risk of ‘shooting ourselves in the foot’. 

In an interview with Greek television channel ERT, Mr Macron conceded that the EU had lacked ambition.

‘Everybody, all the experts said: Never in the history of mankind was a vaccine developed in less than a year,’ he said.

‘We didn’t shoot for the stars. That should be a lesson for all of us. 

‘We were wrong to lack ambition, to lack the madness, I would say, to say: It’s possible, let’s do it.’

However, Mr Macron – who has been one of the most hawkish EU leaders against the UK over Brexit – could not bring himself to make a cross-Channel comparison. 

Instead he hailed the American effort to develop vaccines. 

‘We didn’t think it would happen that quickly… You can give that to the Americans, as early as the summer of 2020 they said: let’s pull out all the stops and do it,’ he said.

‘As far as we’re concerned, we didn’t go fast enough, strong enough on this. We thought the vaccines would take time to take off.’ 

Mrs Merkel told the Bundestag: ‘Despite all the complaints, it was right to rely on the joint procurement and approval of vaccines by the European Union.

‘Now that we see even small differences in the distribution of vaccines cause big discussions, I would not like to imagine if some member states had vaccines and others did not. That would shake the internal market to its core.’

Mr Juncker told the BBC: ‘I’m not a fan of this idea. This could create major reputational damage to the EU, who used to be the world free trade champion.

‘I don’t think this is the right way to do it. We have to pull back from a vaccine war.

‘Nobody understands why we’re witnessing such a stupid vaccine war. This cannot be dealt with in a war atmosphere.

‘We are not in war and we are not enemies, we are allies. We have special relations with Britain, there’s room for dialogue.’

The former commission chief lashed out at the EU for ‘major mistakes’ in being ‘too cautious’ and ‘too budget conscious’ when approving and procuring vaccines. 

A further threat to the UK rollout emerged last night as India was reported to have blocked all major exports of the AZ vaccine because infections there are soaring.

Two weeks after five million doses for the UK were stopped, sources said Narendra Modi’s government has now implemented a complete ban on exports by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer.

The move will also affect supplies to the Covax vaccine-sharing facility through which more than 180 poorer countries are expected to get doses, one of the sources said. Covax would also be hit by any EU ban. Its co-chairman Jane Halton said any threats from Brussels to hold vaccine exports hostage would be ‘extremely regrettable’.

This chart shows how the AstraZeneca supply chain looks across Europe

This chart shows how the AstraZeneca supply chain looks across Europe 


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