EU drug regulator approves AstraZeneca Covid vaccine amid deepening row

  • Video report by ITV News Europe Editor James Mates

The EU's drug regulator has approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for use across its 27 member states for people aged 18 and over.

The Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency (EMA) said there were not yet enough results for people over the age of 55 to determine how well the vaccine would work for this group, but said protection was expected and that the vaccine can be given to older people.

However on Thursday, Germany ruled that it should only be recommended for under 65s.

A draft recommendation from Germany’s vaccination advisory committee said the jab should only be given to people aged 18 to 64 for now as there was 'insufficient data' to recommend it for those aged over 65.

AstraZeneca's Chief Executive, Pascal Soriot, welcomed the EMA's decision to approve the vaccine.

In a statement, he said: "Today’s recommendation underscores the value of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine which is not only effective and well-tolerated, but also easy to administer and, importantly, protects fully against severe disease and hospitalisations."

The EU fallout with AstraZeneca has intensified in recent days Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

The shot is the third Covid-19 vaccine given the green light by the European Medicines Agency, after ones made by Pfizer and Moderna.

The go ahead from the EMA comes amid a growing row with the pharmaceutical firm over vaccine deliveries.

Earlier, the EU published a redacted version of its contract with AstraZeneca as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen demanded answers from the company after Brussels said it had scaled back on its supply to the 27 member states.

Speaking earlier to public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk on Friday, Ursula von der Leyen had said Brussels could publish the AstraZeneca contract as she called for transparency and reassurance from the company, rejecting its claim the EU had only given a "best effort" promise to deliver the vaccine.

Ms von der Leyen said: "We want from AstraZeneca, as with other companies, that the delivery agreement is also fulfilled.

She added: "That is exactly the point we are discussing with the company. We want transparency. We want certainty of planning," German broadcaster reported.

Brussels insisted that UK manufacturing plants should be used to help supply doses of the AstraZeneca jab to the European Union.

The key passage in the contract refers to "best reasonable efforts" by AstraZenana to deliver supplies to the EU at the time.

Clause 5.1 reads: "AstraZeneca shall use its Best Reasonable Efforts to manufacture the Initial Europe Doses within the EU for distribution...."

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston said: "The stress on the "urgent need for a vaccine" will be exploited by Brussels to say that AZ must do more to supply the promised 80m doses in the next two months. But AZ will point to the explicit conditionality."

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

Last week the Anglo-Swedish firm unexpectedly announced production problems at the Belgium factory meant it was forced to cut supplies to the EU.

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Under a contract agreed in August, the company should have supplied at least 80 million doses to the EU by the end of March. EU officials said the bloc would now only see 31 million doses in the period to end-March.

The EU has threatened to impose new rules on all vaccine manufacturers would affect access to the Pfizer vaccine, which is produced in Belgium.

The majority of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine supply for the UK is manufactured here rather than at the Belgium plant so it is not expected to be disrupted.

Downing Street said the UK remained confident in its vaccine supply in the face of a possible export ban being imposed by the European Union.

President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen has said the EU has the power to “forbid” exports. Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA

Asked by reporters about the prospect of EU action, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I’m not going to get into hypotheticals.

“EU policy is a matter for them but I would point back to what I’ve said and what the Prime Minister has said about the confidence we have in our supply chains and the fact we remain committed to vaccinating the most vulnerable groups by the middle of February, the rest of phase one by the spring and offer a dose to all adults by September.”

Wading into the row over vaccine shortages, Russia offered the EU 100 million doses of its Sputnik V vaccine from April.