EU demands greater clarity in Covid Oxford vaccine row after 'constructive' talks with AstraZeneca

Credit: PA

The EU have asked for a "clear plan" from pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca over vaccine shortages after Brussels refused to accept that people in the UK have first claim on the Oxford Covid vaccine.

European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides said on Twitter there had been a "constructive tone" in talks with AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot, but insisted further clarity was needed.

"The EU remains united & firm. Contractual obligations must be met, vaccines must be delivered to EU citizens," she wrote.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove insisted to ITV News the supply of vaccines to the UK has been "assured" by AstraZeneca, despite the row.

Mr Gove said on Thursday that the “first and most important thing” is that the supply schedule agreed with the UK-based pharmaceuticals giant is honoured so the domestic vaccine rollout can be delivered before neighbouring nations are aided.

But Downing Street declined to rule out doses being sent to the EU before everyone in the UK is vaccinated to help address supply shortages being faced by the bloc.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman failed to give a definitive answer when repeatedly pressed on whether jabs could be sent to Europe before everyone in the UK receives a dose.

Instead, he said: “We will offer doses to the priority groups and all adults by September that continues to be the case.”

After Mr Gove’s comments, the European Commission remained resolute, with spokesman Eric Mamer saying “we can and will” get doses from plants, including those in the UK.

EU officials have called for greater clarity from AstraZenaca after rejecting the "first come first serve logic".

In a post on Twitter, Ms Kyriakides said: "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 for Q1.

"We will work with the company to find solutions and deliver vaccines rapidly for EU citizens."

She denied the bloc would impose an export ban on vaccines leaving the EU but said the contract signed with AstraZeneca, which worked with Oxford University on its vaccine, contains two factories in the UK.

“The UK factories are part of our advance purchase agreements and that is why they have to deliver,” she added.

Belgian authorities carried out an inspection at an AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine plant in Seneffe, near Brussels, on Wednesday.

A statement from Belgium’s health ministry was reported to say the spot check was carried out “to make sure that the delivery delay is indeed due to a production problem”.

European Commissioner for Health Stella Kyriakides said the EU is entitled to vaccines from UK factories. Credit: AP

Kim Van Sparrentak, who is on the EU’s Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, also called for “transparency” in relation to the contract with AstraZeneca.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The problem is that there is a contract with AstraZeneca. They have promised us a certain amount of doses and they are not able to deliver.

“Based on these promises, we have rolled out vaccination programmes in 27 countries and the most vulnerable people were able to finally breathe again, to have the feeling ‘OK we will get the vaccine soon’ and now the planning is completely being jeopardised so we need clarity and that’s why I think transparency is most important.”

Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said it was in the UK's interest to have its nearest neighbours immunised against Covid to minimalise the risk of future mutations.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine Credit: Matt Alexander/PA

“In the future I think we will see variants that escape from the vaccines," he told BBC Radio 4's Today.

"The thing to do at the moment is to vaccinate as many people as we can in the world to drive down the amount of transmission and prevent these new variants coming.

“That’s in our national interests, it’s in an equitable and ethical interest, and it’s in the world’s interests to do so.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the issue should be resolved through increased production rather than UK doses being diverted to the EU.

“I don’t want to interrupt the supply of vaccines into the United Kingdom,” he told LBC Radio.

The row over a shortage of Oxford Covid vaccines intensified this week after Brussels rejected the "first come first serve logic" as the EU demanded access to AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured in UK plants.

AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot argued supply chain “teething issues” were fixed in the UK ahead of the bloc because Britain signed a contract three months earlier.