A backlash against European scare stories about the AstraZeneca vaccine was gathering pace last night, with one Government expert describing the French Government’s stance as ‘crackers’.
Amid concern that Britons might be dissuaded from getting the jab following the reaction of EU leaders to exaggerated fears that it could cause blood clots in a tiny number of recipients, scientists and experts accused French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel of being ‘completely irresponsible’.
France was among several EU countries that suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Despite the European Medicines Agency reiterating its confidence in the jab, its Government is still banning its use for those under 55.
Asked about France’s approach, Sir John Bell, a member of the UK Government’s vaccine taskforce, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘It doesn’t make any sense – the whole thing looks completely crackers. They are changing the rules almost every week.
Sir John Bell, a member of the UK Government’s vaccine taskforce described France’s approach as ‘crackers’
‘They are really damaging people’s confidence in vaccines generally – not just the AstraZeneca vaccine.
‘And they are sitting on a massive stockpile of vaccines that they haven’t deployed yet and yet at the same time, they have got a massive wave of the new variant coming across the country. I mean, you couldn’t make it up, could you?’
Prof Bell also played down ‘very anecdotal’ reports from Norway about blood clots and AstraZeneca, saying: ‘If you want to die of a clot, you get Covid. That’s the best way I can think of doing it.’
He also backed as ‘bang on’ the comments by former vaccines tsar Kate Bingham that the failure of Mr Macron and Mrs Merkel to back the vaccine had been ‘completely irresponsible’.
Ms Bingham told The Daily Telegraph: ‘If I was sitting in those countries, I would not be happy to have leaders that are undermining a vaccine that could actually protect… If you’ve got leaders basically saying, ‘I’m not taking that vaccine’, it’s completely irresponsible.’
Dr Michael Head, senior lecturer in global public health at Southampton University, said the European suspensions had been ‘a mistake’ that needlessly compounded people’s fears of vaccination. ‘If you are stopping the rollout during a pandemic, you need a really, really good reason to do so,’ he added.
‘You can investigate without withdrawing the product altogether. It will have cost lives – through the sheer numbers of people left unprotected [by the stoppages] and the added impact of hesitancy.’
Experts have accused French President Emmanuel Macron (pictured) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel of being ‘completely irresponsible’
Johnny Heald, from the polling firm ORB International, which works on the Vaccine Confidence Project with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, warned the scare’s impact would not be limited to Europe.
‘It will play right in the hands of those spreading disinformation about Western vaccines, right into the hands of the Russians and Chinese,’ he said.
NHS bosses hope the scare will not significantly dent public confidence in Britain, but it does appear to have given waverers cause to think again.
The Mail on Sunday found evidence that mixed messages from Europe were having an effect on some people in low take-up areas.
One woman in Newcastle, who declined to be named, said she would not be having the jab.
‘It’s a bit odd that all these countries in Europe suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine because they had concerns over side effects and deaths and then within a matter of a few days the vaccine is declared safe.’
Another woman in Hackney, East London, said: ‘I’m supposed to be having my jab next week, but am still not 100 per cent sure.
‘There’s got to be a reason why other countries aren’t happy about this jab.’
The scare began earlier this month when Austrian authorities raised concerns. A series of countries then suspended the AstraZeneca vaccine, despite the EMA and WHO continuing to back the jab.
Most countries did a U-turn on Friday after an EMA review concluded the vaccine ‘is not associated with an increase in the overall risk of thrombotic events or blood clots’.
Super-factory to make 70m Oxford jab doses in Britain
The prospect of an EU blockade that may stop 19 million doses reaching the UK – on top of disruptions to vaccine supplies from India – comes as Britain prepares to become self-sufficient in vaccine supplies.
Oxford’s Vaccine Manufacturing Innovation Centre – set up in 2018 ‘to promote, develop and accelerate the growth of the UK vaccine industry’ – is a super-factory on the brink of starting the production of more 70 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine over a four to six-month period.
The pandemic triggered a huge boost in funding to the VMIC – up by £131 million to £196 million – in return for developing a plan to increase the amount of vaccine they could produce at their new factory from millions of doses to tens of millions and bringing the plant’s opening forward by a year.
Dr Matthew Duchars, chief executive of the VMIC, based at Harwell Science & Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, said that it was equipped to modify the vaccines to take account of mutant variants.
Dr Duchars said: ‘New Covid variants are absolutely part of the thinking.
‘We probably will need to make seasonal vaccine variants because there may well be mutations in the virus, as well as vaccines for other diseases.
‘You never know what’s coming next.’