A senior EU official has threatened to block all AstraZeneca supplies from entering Britain until the drugmaker ups its deliveries to the bloc, as the EU ramps up its rhetoric over coronavirus vaccines again.
Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, said ‘zero’ AstraZeneca jabs made on the continent would be shipped across the Channel until the company fulfilled its commitments to Europe.
The bloc last week backed down from a vaccine export ban to the UK, and the government has insisted it is ‘confident’ in its supply. Britain’s AstraZeneca doses are currently all produced domestically, and Pfizer jabs are imported from the EU.
But Mr Breton’s words shot down hopes that Brussels and London could split doses made at one of the firm’s major factories in the Netherlands, saying ‘there is nothing to negotiate’ between the two parties.
EU chiefs are furious that AstraZeneca has missed its delivery targets by tens of millions of doses, accusing the Anglo-Swedish firm of breaching its contract.
Downing Street claims its deal with the drug giant for 100million doses means the UK gets first access to supplies from the Halix plant, but has suggested sharing them as part of a peace offering to the EU.
Mr Breton told the FT EU-made doses must be reserved for the bloc to make up for the shortfall, adding: ‘If [AstraZeneca] does more, we don’t have any issue, but as long as it doesn’t deliver its commitment to us, the doses stay in Europe — except for Covax.’
UK Government sources described his comments as ‘disappointing’ and accused him of ‘not respecting lawful contracts’. They claimed the only way to get through the pandemic was to find a ‘win-win’.
In a last ditch attempt to calm cross-Channel tensions, the EU’s former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier urged his colleagues to end the vaccine war last night. In his last speech representing the European Commission, Mr Barnier said the fight against Covid was ‘more than speed of vaccination’.
Meanwhile, Pfizer has slammed the extended powers allowing the EU to block exports of its vaccines and claims the move has ’caused a significant administrative burden’ to the rollout of the vaccine. The drug company’s vice-president for global supply, Danny Hendrikse, described how export controls introduced in February had affected the production of its vaccine and created ‘some uncertainty’ on the free movement of its goods.
The US firm, which supplies more than 70 countries with the injections including the UK, must now seek approval from the European Commission before exporting its jabs and must notify the Belgian government in advance about every parcel.
It comes as one of the UK Government’s top vaccine advisers said the benefits of taking the AstraZeneca vaccine are ‘massively greater than the risks’, amid fears over a tiny number of vaccinated people who suffered brain blood clots. Professor Adam Finn, who sits on No10’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said all vaccines and medicines come with some risk, but added they were ‘very, very small risks’.
On Tuesday night, Germany became the latest EU nation to suspend AstraZeneca’s coronavirus jab for people under 60 after a small number of vaccinated people developed deadly brain clots. France, Norway and Spain have also restricted its use in certain age groups.
The EU’s medical watchdog once again threw its support behind the Oxford University-developed vaccine, saying there was still no proof it had caused the clots and that the patients might have suffered them regardless of the jab.
There were fears that the bans across Europe would fuel vaccine hesitancy in the UK, but it emerged today that more than 99 per cent of Britons have turned up to their second jab appointments so far, with the majority getting the AZ jab.
Thierry Breton (left), the EU’s internal market commissioner, said ‘zero’ AstraZeneca jabs made on the continent would be shipped across the Channel until the company fulfilled its commitments to Europe. In a last ditch attempt to calm cross-Channel tensions, the EU’s former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (right) last nigth urged his colleagues to end the vaccine war
This chart shows how Britain is still racing ahead of the EU in vaccinating its population against Covid-19, more than three months after the continent started its jab programme
The UK has vaccinated more than 30million people with their first dose of Covid vaccine and fully immunised 4m
Where Britain’s vaccine doses are made: AstraZeneca doses (yellow) are mainly produced domestically while Pfizer’s are imported from Europe. Moderna’s will start to be shipped from n Switzerland, which is not an EU member and so not under the EU’s jurisdiction, as well as in Spain
Downing Street claims its deal with the drug giant for 100million doses means the UK gets first access to supplies from the Seneffe (left) and Halix (right) plants, but has suggested sharing them as part of a peace offering with the EU
The increasing uncertainty surrounding the movement of the vaccines comes after Boris Johnson last week warned Brussels that companies could pull investment in the EU if it follows through on threats of an ‘arbitrary’ blockade on vaccine exports to the UK.
The PM said businesses would ‘draw conclusions’ about the bloc’s commitment to the law and free trade after Brussels unveiled draconian new rules seemingly targeting Britain’s rollout.
How badly would the UK’s vaccine drive suffer if the EU blocked exports?
If the European Union blocked all exports of coronavirus vaccines made on its turf, Britain could remain self-sufficient and still get jabs to the entire population.
However, it could come under pressure on second dose supply because it relies on importing Pfizer’s jab from Belgium.
WHICH VACCINES ARE MADE IN THE EU?
The Pfizer/BioNTech jab is currently the only vaccine used in the UK but manufactured in the EU, at the company’s plant in Puurs, Belgium and BioNTech factories in Germany.
AstraZeneca’s jab is made at home in England and Wales.
Moderna’s – which will become available next week – is produced in Switzerland, which is not an EU member and so not under the EU’s jurisdiction.
CAN WE RELY ON ASTRAZENECA?
The good news is that the UK has ordered so many doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab – 100million – that in a worst-case scenario it could immunise the entire adult population (around 50million people) using that one alone.
And the majority of these can be made in England and Wales, although ministers had hoped to boost it with imports from the Netherlands and India, which are now facing problems.
WHAT ABOUT PFIZER SECOND DOSES?
The bad news is that around 11million people have already had at least one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and the majority of them are still waiting for a second jab, which are likely only to come from within the EU.
The UK has already stopped giving out the Pfizer vaccine to first-time patients so it can prioritise all the supplies – which are now in danger of grinding to a halt – for existing patients’ second doses.
Pfizer and the UK Government have both refused to comment on the supply chain but deliveries were already expected to be smaller in April.
Pfizer declined to comment on its supply chain but said: ‘In the UK, we are continuing to liaise closely with the Government to deliver the 40million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that we have committed to supply before the end of the year and can confirm that overall projected supply remains the same for quarter one (January to March).’
Mr Hendrikse told The Times: ‘It has caused a significant administrative burden and some uncertainty. Ultimately what we would like our colleagues to do is to focus on making and distributing the vaccine.’
Meanwhile, the Sun reported today that 99.25 per cent of Brits have turned up for their second Covid jab, with yesterday marking the first time more top-ups were administered than first doses since the rollout began.
Latest official figures show 270,526 vulnerable Brits got their second injection on Tuesday – meaning the total number of fully vaccinated Brits stands at 4.1million.
April is expected to the be a month of second doses because millions are due their second jab as the 12 week deadline approaches.
It comes despite several major EU countries banning AstraZeneca’s vaccine after a small number of people suffered blood clots. It was feared the bans would fuel jab hesitancy in the UK and lead to more people turning down their second appointments.
Europe’s medical watchdog yesterday slapped down Germany for suspending AstraZeneca’s coronavirus jab for people under 60.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said there was ‘no evidence’ to support Berlin halting the jab for people under 60, adding that the benefits of protecting against Covid outweigh the risk of extremely rare brain clots.
Analysis by the regulator found just 62 out of 9.1million people vaccinated with the jab worldwide had developed the brain clot, known as cerebral sinus venous thrombosis — a rate of about five per million. Forty-four of them were in Europe.
Emer Cooke, the EMA’s executive director, told a press conference yesterday afternoon there was no proof the vaccine had caused CSVT in any of the cases and admitted those people might have developed the condition regardless.
The EMA’s ruling puts the watchdog at odds with many other major EU member states which have also restricted the jab’s rollout in certain age groups, including France, Spain and Norway.
Asked about the potential risk for blood clots with the AstraZeneca vaccine, the JCVI’s Professor Finn said today: ‘I think one thing we can say at this moment is that the benefits (of the vaccine) outweigh the risk.
‘As things stand, the risks of Covid, and of blood clots indeed caused by Covid, are massively greater than the risks that may conceivably exist as a result of receiving this vaccine.
‘We are in a state of uncertainty at this point about all of this. We don’t know for sure about the causal relationship. And we don’t really know, critically, what the mechanism is and so what implication that might have even for other vaccines.’
Many vaccines currently in use ‘do have very rare, unexpected serious side effects but we still use them because the balance of risk and benefit is greatly in favour of using them,’ he added.
‘It could turn out that that’s the case for either one or even more than one of the vaccines we’ve developed against Covid. So, it is always in the end a matter of balancing risk and benefit.
‘Just as we all get up in the morning and go to work and take a mortal risk … we find that acceptable because we might die in a car accident or be knocked down by a bus. We have to get used to the idea that using vaccines and drugs and medicines is not without risk, but they’re very, very small risks, and the risks of not using them is obviously much greater.’
Reports of CSVT have been most common in Germany, where 31 out of 2.7million vaccinated people suffered the deadly brain clot — a rate of one in 90,000. The cases, which were almost entirely in younger women, led to the nation banning the vaccine in under-60s.
Germany has reported significantly more cases of cerebral sinus venous thrombosis (CSVT) than other major European countries and the reasons for it are unclear. The UK has vaccinated five times as many people but seen just one sixth as many CSVT cases, while France, Italy and Spain used the AstraZeneca jab on similar age groups but also had much lower rates of CSVT. There is still no evidence the vaccine is causing the condition, experts say
Emer Cooke, the EMA’s executive director, told a press conference there was no proof the vaccine had caused CSVT in any of the cases and admitted those people might have developed the condition anyway
Several member states have paused rollouts of the AstraZeneca vaccine after a tiny number of inoculated people, predominantly women under 55, suffered deadly brain clots
Ms Cooke said the rate of the blood clots could be one in 100,000 for people under 60 and that this did appear higher than the normal population risk, although there was still no solid link to the jab, only a ‘possible’ one.
While the reasons for the higher prevalence in Germany aren’t at all clear, the EMA revealed twice as many women had received AstraZeneca’s jab in Europe than men, before adding that the people normally most at risk of CSVT are females aged 35 to 45.
Until recently Germany had suspended the AZ jab for over-60s due to initial fears about blood clots. It raises the possibility that the rates of CSVT among vaccinated people Germany can be explained by more women who are susceptible to the condition being targeted by the rollout.
Ms Cooke said: ‘At present, the experts have advised us that they have not been able to identify specific risk factors, including age, gender or previous medical history of clotting disorders, for these very rare events.
‘And, as I mentioned previously, a causal link of the vaccine has not yet been proven but it is possible, and further analysis is still ongoing. According to the current scientific knowledge, there is no evidence to support restricting the use of this vaccine in any population.’
Europe’s vaccine roll-out is ‘unacceptably slow and prolonging the pandemic’, WHO warns
Europe’s vaccine roll-out has been condemned for being ‘unacceptably slow’ and blamed for ‘prolonging the pandemic’ by the World Health Organisation.
‘Vaccines present our best way out of this pandemic … However, the rollout of these vaccines is unacceptably slow’ and is ‘prolonging the pandemic’, WHO director for Europe Hans Kluge said today.
He added that Europe’s outbreak was ‘more worrying than we have seen in several months.’
The EU is facing soaring infections – France yesterday imposed its third national lockdown and there are similar calls in Germany – as countries face a lack of vaccine doses which are being centrally allocated by Brussels.
The Bloc failed to order enough doses or grant vaccines swift approval and is now facing a crisis of confidence in the AstraZeneca jab – which leaders like Emmanuel Macron helped fuel during the EU’s bitter row with Britain over supplies.
Europe’s medicines regulator yesterday slapped down fresh doubts raised in Germany after hospitals in Berlin and Munich banned the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine over sporadic cases of deadly blood clots.
But as Germany joined other states like France in banning use of AstraZeneca, EU officials today continued their rancorous threats to block exports of the vaccine to Britain until they get the doses they believe they are owed.
Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, said ‘zero’ AstraZeneca jabs made on the Continent would be shipped across the Channel until the company fulfilled its commitments to Europe.
He shot down hopes that Brussels and London could split doses made at the firm’s two major factories in Belgium and the Netherlands, saying ‘there is nothing to negotiate’ between the two parties.
Brazil sees 66,500 Covid deaths in one month – double the previous record – as it hits a new daily high toll of 3,869 fatalities
Brazil’s coronavirus death toll spiralled out of control in March with more than 66,500 fatalities, doubling the country’s previous monthly record, officials said.
In a sign of the devastation the virus is still causing in Brazil, daily deaths rose to a staggering 3,869 fatalities – the highest figure since the pandemic began.
Health experts say the explosion of coronavirus infections is partly driven by a local variant called P1, which can re-infect people who have had the original strain and is believed to be more contagious.
The country reported 66,573 people died of Covid-19 in March, which is more than twice as many fatalities as Brazil’s second-deadliest month of the pandemic in July last year.
In a sign of the devastation the virus is still causing in Brazil, daily deaths rose to a staggering 3,869 fatalities – the highest figure since the pandemic began
Brazil’s coronavirus death toll spiralled out of control in March with more than 66,500 fatalities, doubling the country’s previous monthly record. Pictured: Cemetery workers lower the coffin of a Covid-19 victim in Sao Paulo, Brazil last night
Cemetery workers lower a coffin in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Wednesday night as the country is ravaged by coronavirus
‘Never in Brazilian history have we seen a single event kill so many people [in one month],’ said doctor Miguel Nicolelis, former pandemic response coordinator for Brazil’s impoverished northeast.
With the southern hemisphere winter approaching and the virus spreading fast, Brazil is facing ‘a perfect storm,’ Dr Nicolelis said.
‘That’s a threat not just for Brazil but for the entire world.’
The P1 variant has spread to more than two dozen countries, including the US, UK and Japan.
As long as the pandemic continues to rage unchecked in Brazil, there is a risk that more variants could emerge in the country, researchers say.
The surge in Brazil has overwhelmed hospitals and forced doctors to make agonizing decisions over whom to give life-saving care – prioritizing those most likely to survive.
‘We’re at the worst moment of the pandemic, and indications are that April will be very bad, too,’ said epidemiologist Ethel Maciel of Espirito Santo Federal University.
‘The worst is yet to come,’ she said.
Covid-19 beds in intensive care units are more than 90 per cent full in 18 of Brazil’s 27 states, and another seven states are approaching that level.
At least 230 patients with suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19 died waiting for a bed in intensive care in Sao Paulo this month, according to TV Globo.
Several states have begun implementing protocols to decide which patients get ICU care, prioritizing those most likely to survive.
‘We’re in a very tragic situation,’ said Maciel.
The surge in Brazil has overwhelmed hospitals and forced doctors to make agonizing decisions over whom to give life-saving care – prioritizing those most likely to survive. Pictured: A man in hospital in Baaru, Sao Paulo
Earlier this month, Piaui state chief Wellington Dias described hospitals where infected patients could not even get a bed, let alone the intensive care they required.
‘We have reached the limit across Brazil; rare are the exceptions,’ Dias, who leads the governors’ Covid forum, said. ‘The chance of dying without assistance is real.’
Full hospitals are known to have worse survival rates because people can’t get the same level of attention and medical care that they would if there were fewer other patients.
The country has ranked among those with the worst Covid outbreaks in the world – it has recorded 12.7million cases and 322,000 deaths, second only to the US on both counts.
Wednesday saw more than 90,600 new coronavirus cases being recorded in the country.
President Jair Bolsonaro has been constantly dismissive of the virus and allowed it to run rampant, comparing Covid to flu and publicly spreading anti-vaccine myths, hampering the country’s pandemic response.
President Jair Bolsonaro has been constantly dismissive of the virus and allowed it to run rampant
Under pressure from allies in Congress and the business world, Bolsonaro installed his fourth health minister of the pandemic last week, replacing Eduardo Pazuello – an army general with no medical experience – with cardiologist Marcelo Queiroga.
The president sought to show he was taking the pandemic seriously, launching a crisis committee.
However, he reverted to his anti-lockdown message at the committee’s first meeting Wednesday.
‘We’re not going to solve the problem by staying at home,’ he said – contradicting his new health minister, who had just urged Brazilians to ‘respect social distancing.’
Bolsonaro argues the economic damage of lockdowns is worse than the virus itself, a stance that has left state and local governments to implement a messy patchwork of pandemic policies.
Brazil is meanwhile struggling to secure enough vaccine doses, and is far off pace to meet the health ministry’s target of immunizing the entire adult population by the end of the year.
Brazil is currently using two vaccines, Oxford/AstraZeneca’s and Chinese-developed CoronaVac, both of which require two doses.
About 8% of the population has received a first dose and 2.3% a second.
Health regulators granted emergency approval Wednesday for Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, but the 38 million doses Brazil has purchased will only start arriving in August.