EU to unveil vaccine export crackdown plans as row over supplies grows

Brussels today stepped up its Covid-19 vaccine war with AstraZeneca by insisting their deal allows them to grab millions of doses made in the UK as the bloc also unveiled new powers to stop Pfizer jabs crossing the Channel from Europe.

Ursula von der Leyen, the German president of the European Commission, says the EU’s deal with the pharmaceutical giant is ‘crystal clear’ that supplies would come from four factories including two in Britain.

The UK’s 100million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are all made at sites in Oxford and Staffordshire before it is put into vials at a facility in Wrexham after signing a deal last May.

But Ms von der Leyen said today that AstraZeneca, who warned Brussels it will deliver 60 per cent fewer doses than expected by the end of March, must deliver the vaccine they promised in August including doses made in Britain because it has offered ‘no plausible reasons’ for production problems.

She told Deutschlandfunk radio: ‘There are binding orders and the contract is crystal clear’.

Thew extraordinary statement came as the bloc unveiled new powers today that could see the shipment of millions of vaccine doses to Britain being blocked within days.

As the row over the EU jabs shortage intensifies, the European Commission will establish a mechanism to allow member states to refuse vaccine exports. The move will heighten fears about whether Britain’s expected supply of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine – which is manufactured in Belgium – could be disrupted. Britain has ordered 40 million doses.

It came as Belgian health authorities revealed they had been sent into an AstraZeneca factory in the town of Seneffe where doses of its vaccine are being made. The commission requested the inspection due to doubts over the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical firm’s explanation for its shortfall in deliveries to the bloc.

Belgian health authorities were sent to AstraZeneca's European production site in Seneffe on Thursday after the European Commission demanded an inspection of the site. They were sent in after AstraZeneca told the EU it would only receive a quarter of the jabs it expected by April due to delays in production

Belgian health authorities were sent to AstraZeneca's European production site in Seneffe on Thursday after the European Commission demanded an inspection of the site. They were sent in after AstraZeneca told the EU it would only receive a quarter of the jabs it expected by April due to delays in production

Belgian health authorities were sent to AstraZeneca’s European production site in Seneffe on Thursday after the European Commission demanded an inspection of the site. They were sent in after AstraZeneca told the EU it would only receive a quarter of the jabs it expected by April due to delays in production

The European Commission will establish a mechanism to allow member states to refuse vaccine exports today -threatening Britain's order of 40million doses from Pfizer. European Council president Charles Michel (pictured with Ursula von der Leyen), who chairs meetings of EU leaders, has backed the use of legal measures to protect the bloc’s vaccine supply

The European Commission will establish a mechanism to allow member states to refuse vaccine exports today -threatening Britain's order of 40million doses from Pfizer. European Council president Charles Michel (pictured with Ursula von der Leyen), who chairs meetings of EU leaders, has backed the use of legal measures to protect the bloc’s vaccine supply

The European Commission will establish a mechanism to allow member states to refuse vaccine exports today -threatening Britain’s order of 40million doses from Pfizer. European Council president Charles Michel (pictured with Ursula von der Leyen), who chairs meetings of EU leaders, has backed the use of legal measures to protect the bloc’s vaccine supply

‘We want to see if what we are being told is correct or not,’ one EU official said.

The EU has been left furious by AstraZeneca’s announcement that it would have to cut deliveries of its Covid-19 vaccine to the bloc by 60 per cent because of production problems. Brussels has raised questions about whether doses from the factory have secretly been shipped to Britain.

That has led to the EU to reconsider whether jabs being manufactured on the continent should be allowed to leave while it is suffering a supply crisis.

As a result, under the proposals to be finalised today, customs authorities in EU countries will have to notify the commission every time jabs are being sent outside the bloc.

An EU official said: ‘There is a possibility in certain circumstances not to allow the export to move forward. We want to ensure we have a say about where these vaccines are ending up.’

The official insisted that a refusal would happen only in ‘rare cases’ when companies were failing to fulfil their contractual commitments to the EU.

‘In an ideal world, we would not be here. In an ideal world, the whole story of vaccination would run smoothly without any problems. But unfortunately we are not in an ideal world, and we have seen over the last weeks that not all works well,’ the official said.

‘That’s why, and given the circumstances around with certain states around the world, even in our neighbourhood, acting in terms of restrictions of exports, even banning exports for certain products, I think we need to be up front, and we need to react.’

EU measures could threaten the delivery of Pfizer vaccines (pictured), as the bloc is said to be suspicious that doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have been secretly shipped from Belgium to Britain

EU measures could threaten the delivery of Pfizer vaccines (pictured), as the bloc is said to be suspicious that doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have been secretly shipped from Belgium to Britain

EU measures could threaten the delivery of Pfizer vaccines (pictured), as the bloc is said to be suspicious that doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have been secretly shipped from Belgium to Britain

MEPs warned the UK would 'suffer' for denying the EU, and the bloc's health commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, (pictured) insisted Britain should not receive priority – even though it signed a contract with AstraZeneca three months before Brussels did

MEPs warned the UK would 'suffer' for denying the EU, and the bloc's health commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, (pictured) insisted Britain should not receive priority – even though it signed a contract with AstraZeneca three months before Brussels did

MEPs warned the UK would ‘suffer’ for denying the EU, and the bloc’s health commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, (pictured) insisted Britain should not receive priority – even though it signed a contract with AstraZeneca three months before Brussels did 

The criteria for blocking exports will be published today, with the mechanism expected to come into force within days.

European Council president Charles Michel, who chairs meetings of EU leaders, backed the use of legal measures to protect the bloc’s vaccine supply. 

In a letter to the leaders of four member states, he wrote: ‘The EU needs to take robust action to secure its supply of vaccines and demonstrate concretely that the protection of its citizens remains our absolute priority.’

The EU is facing a shortfall in supply of vaccines after AstraZeneca warned Brussels last week that problems with production in Belgium meant the bloc will receive only a quarter of the 100 million doses it had expected to receive in the first three months of this year.

French health authorities are already struggling with shortages. A number of regions across the country cancelled first-jab appointments that were due to be held in early February, postponing them by at least a month.

German health minister Jens Spahn said the country was likely to face a shortage of vaccines until at least April.

Spain’s Madrid and Cantabria regions have also stopped first vaccinations and are using remaining doses to administer second shots to those who have had the first one.

Portugal, where infections and deaths have spiked to record levels after Christmas, said delivery delays meant that people who have top priority – including health professionals – will all be fully vaccinated by April, around two months later than initially planned. The Netherlands will also struggle to execute its vaccination programme.

How did the UK end up as one of the world’s leading countries on the vaccine roll-out?

The UK is one of the world’s leading countries when it comes to the speed of the roll-out of its coronavirus vaccination programme – a fact made all the more impressive given where the nation started when the pandemic hit early last year. 

At that point the country had just one vaccine manufacturing site – a facility in Liverpool which made flu jabs.

But the Government quickly set up a vaccine task force in April to make sure the UK was well-positioned to benefit from medical breakthroughs.

The experts appointed to the task force reportedly recommended seven projects for investment within its first two weeks, according to The Times. 

Advance purchase orders were hammered out by the task force with suppliers despite the fact there were no guarantees that any of the vaccines would work or that they would be signed off by regulators.  

That early work meant the UK was in pole position to receive the jabs, if and when they were shown to be effective and safe. 

The task force’s strategy means two companies have been relied upon to do much of the heavy lifting during the UK’s vaccine roll-out: Pfizer and AstraZeneca. 

The UK ordered 40 million doses from the former and 100 million doses from the latter. 

Agreements are also in place with a handful of other would-be suppliers should their products get the green light. 

The speed with which the UK moved on vaccines was perhaps best illustrated this week when Pascal Soriot, the chief executive of AstraZeneca, revealed the deal with Britain was agreed three months before the EU’s. 

The UK’s supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine is made at sites in Oxford and Staffordshire before it is put into vials at a facility in Wrexham, while the Pfizer jab is made in Belgium.

Every new batch of vaccine in the UK has to be safety tested by the National Institute of Biological Standards and Control in Hertfordshire before it can be sent for delivery. 

This process takes about four days and once each batch has been rubber-stamped it is taken to secure Government warehouses where the NHS takes over the process and decides where the doses will be sent.

The physical roll-out of the vaccine is headquartered from an NHS office in London, with doses sent to more than 1,400 vaccine sites across the country.

It is easily the biggest vaccination drive in the history of the health service and many believe it will become an annual programme.   

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News of restrictions in Europe come after Nicola Sturgeon was accused of taking the EU’s side in the bitter vaccine row as she vowed to publish details of the UK’s supplies despite Boris Johnson ordering her to keep them secret.

In an extraordinary move, the First Minister risked undermining Britain’s position, with Brussels heaping pressure on firms to give the bloc a bigger share of the stocks. 

Despite the PM warning that the information must be confidential to protect the rollout, Ms Sturgeon told Holyrood she will release it from next week ‘regardless of what they say’. 

The timing of Ms Sturgeon’s intervention was particularly provocative given that it came as Mr Johnson was on an official visit to Scotland to make the case for the Union. 

Tory MPs vented fury at Ms Sturgeon – who wants Scotland to be independent and rejoin the bloc – saying she is ‘obviously more inclined to help the EU than she is the UK’. 

Tory MP Peter Bone told MailOnline: ‘The simple truth is she has a tendency to support the EU rather than the United Kingdom. 

‘It is wrong, her behaviour. I would have thought she would praise the success of the UK because Scotland shares in that. If she was in the EU and not part of the UK she would still be waiting for her vaccines. Get behind the UK government and stop playing petty politics.’ 

The row erupted as tensions between Britain and Brussels over vaccine supplies escalated again as the EU warned drug companies it will use all legal means to block the export of jabs from the continent unless manufacturers deliver the shots they have promised.

The EU’s vaccination rollout continues to lag far behind the UK’s, with the bloc now desperately scrambling to boost supplies – but deliveries have slowed due to production problems.

Brussels has publicly slammed AstraZeneca for failing to deliver on its contract with the bloc and has even asked the firm to divert jabs from Britain. 

Now it has emerged that European Council President Charles Michel has said in a letter to four EU leaders that the EU should explore legal means to ensure it receives the jabs it has bought.

‘If no satisfactory solution can be found, I believe we should explore all options and make use of all legal means and enforcement measures at our disposal under the Treaties,’ he said in the letter sent on Thursday.

EU officials said that exports could be blocked if they were deemed to violate contracts between drugs firms and the EU.   

Earlier, MEPs had threatened a ‘trade war’ with the UK over the issue while there were claims officials have been sent from the medicines agency to the AstraZeneca plant in Belgium to check it genuinely has problems producing doses. 

The bloc continues to pile the pressure on the UK-based pharma giant to bail out its shambolic vaccine rollout. European politicians warned the ‘consequences’ of refusing to divert stocks of the UK-made jabs to EU would be a ban on exports of the Pfizer version from Belgium – suggesting 3.5million doses due to arrive soon could be at risk. 

EU chiefs want more of the Oxford jabs – made in Staffordshire and Oxfordshire – to be handed over to make up for a 75million shortfall on the continent.

The European Commission said the Anglo-Swedish firm was obliged to meet its contractual obligations despite production issues at its Belgian site.

So far both AstraZeneca and Pfizer look to be holding firm against the sabre-rattling from Brussels. 

It comes after MEPs warned that the UK would ‘suffer’ for denying the EU, and the bloc’s health commissioner insisted Britain should not receive priority – even though it signed a contract with AstraZeneca three months before Brussels did.

Stella Kyriakides said: ‘We reject the logic of first come, first served. That may work in a butcher’s shop but not in contracts and not in our advanced purchase agreements.’

Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the UK will discuss ‘how we can help’ the EU’s vaccination effort. But asked if the UK might lose out because the EU has not got enough doses, Mr Gove said: ‘No. The programme of vaccination has been agreed and assured and the supplies were fixed some time ago and we will make sure that the vaccine programme proceeds exactly as planned.’

He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘Of course it is the case that we will want to talk with our friends in Europe to see how we can help, but the really important thing is making sure that our own vaccination programme proceeds precisely as planned.’

While AstraZeneca has committed to ‘even closer’ co-ordination with EU officials, the company stuck firmly to its guns, saying it had been ‘open’ with the bloc about the ‘complexities’ of scaling up its vaccine production.

The firm also left a small but poignant sting in the tail, with a reminder to European leaders of its commitment to provide millions of vaccines to people across the continent ‘at no profit’ during the pandemic.

It comes as sources said Britain has enough vaccines to last this year and meet its targets and could end up distributing them to other countries anyway.

Meanwhile an industry insider rubbished fears Brussels may try to divert the UK’s vaccines as ‘political rhetoric’, but warned if it did it ‘would be a human rights issue for millions of people’.

In other developments:

  • Germany‘s vaccine commission has recommended that the AstraZeneca jab only be used for under-65s because there is not enough evidence about whether it works on the elderly;
  • Mr Johnson insisted he is not concerned by the recommendation in Germany, saying the UK regulator concluded the jab ‘provides a good immune response across all age groups’; 
  • Covid-19 case rates are continuing to fall in all regions of England, according to the latest weekly surveillance report from Public Health England; 
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called a high-level meeting with vaccine manufacturers next week after her health minister warned its shortage of jabs will stretch into April;
  • Boris Johnson is visiting Scotland despite Nicola Sturgeon insisting that his trip is not ‘essential’ amid coronavirus lockdown;
  • French firm Valneva has started manufacturing a new vaccine in Scotland that is expected to deliver up to 60 million doses for the UK by the end of this year if it wins approval; 
  • The PM has announced schools will not reopen until at least March 8, with ministers plotting a phased exit from lockdown that could see non-essential shops back up and running in April, and pubs in May;
  • There is confusion over Priti Patel’s plans for all Britons to produce a written declaration that they are going for ‘essential’ reasons before leaving the country; 
  • Latest figures showed 7.16million people have had a coronavirus jab in the UK, with over 1,400 sites in operation; 
  • The Children’s Commissioner warned mental health services for young people were hopelessly overstretched.

Boris Johnson met armed forces personnel at a youth centre in Castlemilk, Glasgow on Thursday, as he thanked people for their efforts on the coronavirus response

Boris Johnson met armed forces personnel at a youth centre in Castlemilk, Glasgow on Thursday, as he thanked people for their efforts on the coronavirus response

Boris Johnson met armed forces personnel at a youth centre in Castlemilk, Glasgow on Thursday, as he thanked people for their efforts on the coronavirus response

Boris Johnson is shown the Lighthouse Laboratory, used for processing PCR samples for coronavirus, during a visit to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus in Glasgow on Thursday

Boris Johnson is shown the Lighthouse Laboratory, used for processing PCR samples for coronavirus, during a visit to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus in Glasgow on Thursday

Boris Johnson is shown the Lighthouse Laboratory, used for processing PCR samples for coronavirus, during a visit to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus in Glasgow on Thursday

EU chiefs demanded that AstraZeneca jabs made in Staffordshire and Oxfordshire be diverted to make up for a 75million shortfall on the continent. Pictured: European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen

EU chiefs demanded that AstraZeneca jabs made in Staffordshire and Oxfordshire be diverted to make up for a 75million shortfall on the continent. Pictured: European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen

EU chiefs demanded that AstraZeneca jabs made in Staffordshire and Oxfordshire be diverted to make up for a 75million shortfall on the continent. Pictured: European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen

In an extraordinary move this afternoon, Nicola Sturgeon risked undermining the UK's position by announcing she will publish details of the country's vaccine supplies from next week

In an extraordinary move this afternoon, Nicola Sturgeon risked undermining the UK's position by announcing she will publish details of the country's vaccine supplies from next week

In an extraordinary move this afternoon, Nicola Sturgeon risked undermining the UK’s position by announcing she will publish details of the country’s vaccine supplies from next week

It comes as the German press (pictured inset: An article in Die Zeit) turned on Brussels as it denounced the EU's shambolic vaccine rollout as the 'best advert for Brexit'

It comes as the German press (pictured inset: An article in Die Zeit) turned on Brussels as it denounced the EU's shambolic vaccine rollout as the 'best advert for Brexit'

It comes as the German press (pictured inset: An article in Die Zeit) turned on Brussels as it denounced the EU’s shambolic vaccine rollout as the ‘best advert for Brexit’

Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the UK will discuss 'how we can help' the EU's vaccination effort. But asked if the UK might lose out because the EU has not got enough doses, Mr Gove said: 'No.'

Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the UK will discuss 'how we can help' the EU's vaccination effort. But asked if the UK might lose out because the EU has not got enough doses, Mr Gove said: 'No.'

Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the UK will discuss ‘how we can help’ the EU’s vaccination effort. But asked if the UK might lose out because the EU has not got enough doses, Mr Gove said: ‘No.’

PM and UK health chiefs insist AstraZeneca vaccine IS effective for ALL age groups after Germany claims jab should not be used on over-65s yet 

Boris Johnson and UK health chief insisted the AstraZeneca vaccine works for all age groups after German scientists said they will not recommend it for over-65s because they believe there is not yet enough evidence.  

The PM and Public Health England struck a bullish note after a Berlin commission said there was ‘insufficient data to assess the efficacy of the vaccine for persons aged 65 years and older’. 

British regulators, by contrast, have approved the jab for all age groups – with AstraZeneca pointing to data published in a medical journal showing that 100 per cent of older adults generated antibodies in trials.

Germany’s stance comes amid an angry row between the EU and AstraZeneca over vaccine supplies, with the bloc lagging far behind Britain in immunising its population against Covid-19. 

Although it is possible the position could change with more evidence, it raises the prospect of splits between the UK and EU on what vaccines are regarded as effective – with speculation that in the future travel to some destinations could be contingent on having been inoculated.     

On a visit to Scotland this afternoon, Mr Johnson said he was not worried about the news from Germany. ‘No, because the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) our own authorities have made it very clear that they think the Oxford-AstraZeneca is very good and efficacious and gives a high degree of protection after just one does and even more after two doses,’ he said.

The PM said the MHRA concluded the vaccine is ‘effective across all age groups’ and ‘provides a good immune response across all age groups’. He added on the German conclusions: ‘So I don’t agree with that.’

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at PHE, said there had been ‘too few cases’ of coronavirus in older people in Phase 3 clinical trial to determine efficacy in this age group, but other data on immune response had been ‘reassuring’.  

AstraZeneca said: ‘The latest analyses of clinical trial data for the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine support efficacy in the over 65 years age group.’   

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Ms Sturgeon’s comments came as she was grilled by Tory Ruth Davidson at First Minister’s Questions thus afternoon.

Pushed on why Scotland’s vaccinations were happening more slowly than England’s, Ms Sturgeon dismissed claims that the authorities north of the border were sitting on supplies.

And she referenced a previous row with Westminster when the Scottish government published information about supplies, only to be told to withdraw the material.

Ms Sturgeon complained that despite the orders the UK government has been ‘briefing’ the details out, adding: ‘I’ve said to my officials actually, regardless of what they say, I think we will just go back to publishing the actual supply figures from next week so we all have transparency around that.’ 

According to reports, the Belgian federal medicines agency completed an inspection at the AstraZeneca production site in Seneffe, Hainaut. 

Samples and records are said to have been taken and another visit is due in the coming days.

The firm has blamed a production problem at the site, owned by a French life-sciences company, for the reduction in how much supply the EU can expect. 

However, there is scepticism in Brussels over the explanation, with un-evidenced claims the UK is being given stocks. 

A prominent German MEP warned the UK would ‘suffer’ unless it agreed to the EU’s demands to share more vaccine.

Peter Liese, who is in Angela Merkel’s CDU party, suggested Brussels could block shipments of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, which is made in Belgium.

He said: ‘The BioNTech vaccine, which is only produced in Europe and has been produced with the aid of the German state and European Union money, has been shipped to the United Kingdom.

‘If there is anyone thinking that European citizens would accept that we give this high quality vaccine to the UK and would accept to be treated as second class by a UK-based company, I think that the only consequence can be immediately stopping the export of the BioNtech (vaccine) and then we are in the middle of a trade war.

‘So the company and the UK better think twice. When we see Europe is not treated well, not by the United States and not by the UK, then we have to show our weapons.

‘We need to tell the other companies in the world if we treat the Europeans as second class, you will suffer for this.’

To add to the complications, Germany’s top vaccine panel said it is not recommending the AstraZeneca jab only for over-65s because there is not enough evidence on whether it works for the elderly.

The panel of scientists said the Oxford/AstraZeneca product was ‘considered appropriate’ for 18-65 year-olds but should not be used for older people ‘based on available data’.

‘There is currently insufficient data to assess the efficacy of the vaccine for persons aged 65 years and older,’ it said.

The commission did not lend any credence to the sensational claim published by German media on Monday that the jab was only eight per cent effective among over-65s, a theory debunked by the manufacturers and German health ministry.

Instead, it said there was not enough data to make a decision either way – after AstraZeneca’s boss said the ‘very ethical’ Oxford scientists had slowed down trials on older people until the vaccine was proved to be safe.

Germany admits vaccine shortage until APRIL amid fury at EU bungling 

Germany’s health minister has warned its shortage of coronavirus vaccines will stretch into April as the backlash against the EU’s bungling gathered pace.

The grim message came as Germany’s top-selling Bild newspaper described the problems around procuring supplies as a ‘scandal’. 

Jens Spahn said he wanted to invite pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers for a summit to make sure that Europe gets its fair share of doses. 

‘We will still have at least 10 tough weeks with a shortage of vaccine,’ he tweeted.

Mr Spahn said he recognised that producing vaccines was very complicated and building up production could not just be done in a few weeks if quality standards were to be upheld.

Earlier this week Germany supported EU proposals to set up a register of exports of COVID-19 vaccines, as tensions grow with AstraZeneca and Pfizer over sudden supply cuts just a month after the bloc started vaccinating citizens.

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Downing Street has refused to rule out giving UK vaccines to the European Union once the most vulnerable in the country have been inoculated.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman was repeatedly asked by reporters whether Number 10 was considering the idea.

The spokesman said it ‘remains our priority to vaccinate the most vulnerable people across the UK to ensure we can give those who are at clinical risk protection against the virus’.

Pushed on whether that left the door open to sending vaccines to Europe once the most vulnerable had been jabbed, he added: ‘Phase one includes those who are most vulnerable to the virus – that remains our priority to make sure we get vaccines to all those as quickly as possible.

‘Phase one is groups one to nine (on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation suggested priority list). The mid-February target is the first four groups within that.’

Put to him that after the first nine cohorts had been vaccinated, vaccines could then be shared, the spokesman added: ‘I didn’t say that.’

AstraZeneca warned Brussels last week the problems in Belgium meant the bloc would receive only a quarter of the 100million doses it had expected by April.

A spokesman last night told MailOnline: ‘Our CEO Pascal Soriot was pleased to participate in a meeting this evening with the EU’s Vaccine Steering Board.

‘We had a constructive and open conversation about the complexities of scaling up production of our vaccine, and the challenges we have encountered.

‘We have committed to even closer co-ordination, to jointly chart a path for the delivery of our vaccine over the coming months as we continue our efforts to bring our vaccine to millions of Europeans at no profit during the pandemic.’

Government sources insist only once the AZ factories in Oxford and Newcastle-under-Lyme had fulfilled their commitment to the UK will they be free to supply other countries.

The UK signed a deal with AstraZeneca last May to supply 100million doses of the vaccine it developed with Oxford University.

EU nations placed a joint order for 400million doses from AstraZeneca three months later, in August, to be made at two sites on the continent, as well as the two UK sites.

Vaccines WILL limit the spread of coronavirus – but we won’t know how by much until mid-February, experts say 

Britain’s vaccine roll out will limit the spread of coronavirus, but by exactly how much will not be made clear until mid-February, experts say.

Providing a boost to the UK’s hopes of ending lockdown, England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said jabs ‘couldn’t fail to have some effect on transmission’.

He said it was less a question of ‘will they?’ and rather ‘to what extent’ will inoculation help to reduce the spread.

But Boris Johnson and his chief scientists tonight said experts won’t know much effect the coronavirus vaccines are having on the country’s epidemic until mid-February,

The PM said the impact of the jabs won’t be felt in hospital and deaths data until then due to the lag in time it takes between getting injected and developing immunity.

He told a Downing Street press conference tonight that he would not consider lifting lockdown restrictions until he’d seen concrete ‘evidence that those graphs are coming down’.

The immunisation drive has only really got up to speed in the last few weeks and it takes between a fortnight and a month for a person to build up immunity.

Both the Pfizer and Oxford University vaccines have been proven to block severe illness, so experts hope they’ll start to make a dent in the death and hospitalisation rates in the coming weeks.

No10’s scientists will be monitoring those metrics, specifically in the most vulnerable groups – including the over-80s, over-75s and care homes residents – who are currently receiving the jabs.

So far 6.8million, or one in 10, people in Britain have received at least one dose of the vaccines.

In three weeks time, when most of those people have protection, experts will expect to see a near 10 per cent drop in hospital admissions.

Not all of the people vaccinated will be immune, however, because the jabs are not perfect. Pfizer’s is 95 per cent effective at blocking severe disease, while Oxford’s is around 70 per cent. 

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The resultant 75million shortfall in the first three months of this year has caused a major row between the two sides.

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘The fact is that we ordered the vaccine three months before the EU.

‘The EU are coming out with a very strange excuse for botching their procurement of vaccine at the moment.

‘They’re saying that the reason it took them three months longer than the UK to order the vaccine is because they were negotiating for better prices for and better value for money, which is ludicrous when the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, our own UK vaccine, is being produced at cost at £3 a dose subsidised by the UK taxpayer.

‘I don’t know how you get better value for that.

‘The EU then insisted on the contract that they did sign with AstraZeneca that they get delivery at the same time as the UK, which had ordered it three months before.

‘Obviously that’s going to be produced in Belgium at a new facility they’re setting up.

‘AstraZeneca made the EU aware that was going to be very difficult but they promised to make best efforts, that was in the contract.’

Aaron Bell, a Tory member of the Commons science committee, said: ‘I understand and sympathise with the EU’s disappointment that AstraZeneca is having yield issues at its Belgian plant, but the suggestion that the UK’s supply should be diverted to the continent is clearly inappropriate.’ 

Tensions rose when Astra chief Pascal Soriot told European newspapers in an interview on Tuesday that the supply schedule for the EU was not a ‘commitment’ but agreed as a ‘best effort’.

He said that as Brussels had signed its supply contract three months later than the UK it had left less time to sort out production ‘glitches’ at sites on the continent.

‘The contract with the UK was signed first and the UK, of course, said ‘You supply us first’, and this is fair enough,’ he added.

But Miss Kyriakides flatly rejected the argument and demanded the vaccines being made in the UK for domestic use be exported to the EU.

At a briefing in Brussels, she said: ‘There is no hierarchy of the factories.

‘You are aware in the contracts there are four factories listed but it does not differentiate between the UK and Europe.

‘The UK factories are part of our advance purchase agreements and that is why they have to deliver.’

The commissioner said the EU was losing people to the pandemic every day, adding: ‘These are not numbers. They’re not statistics. These are persons with families with friends and colleagues that have been affected as well. 

EU officials have demanded that Covid vaccines made in the UK be exported to Europe to help plug shortfalls in its own jabs roll-out, which is among the slowest in the world and is lagging well behind Britain

EU officials have demanded that Covid vaccines made in the UK be exported to Europe to help plug shortfalls in its own jabs roll-out, which is among the slowest in the world and is lagging well behind Britain

EU officials have demanded that Covid vaccines made in the UK be exported to Europe to help plug shortfalls in its own jabs roll-out, which is among the slowest in the world and is lagging well behind Britain 

The EU’s health commissioner last night insisted that Britain should not receive priority – even though the UK signed a contract with Astra-Zeneca three months before the bloc did. Pictured: AstraZeneca office building in Brussels

The EU’s health commissioner last night insisted that Britain should not receive priority – even though the UK signed a contract with Astra-Zeneca three months before the bloc did. Pictured: AstraZeneca office building in Brussels

The EU’s health commissioner last night insisted that Britain should not receive priority – even though the UK signed a contract with Astra-Zeneca three months before the bloc did. Pictured: AstraZeneca office building in Brussels

Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot Covid vaccine could soon be added to Britain’s arsenal

Johnson and Johnson will publish results from phase three trials of its one-shot coronavirus vaccine next week, the company announced last night.

The jab uses similar technology to the Oxford University vaccine, making it just as easy to transport and store, but requires just a single injection to protect against Covid.

Government scientists expect the vaccine, made by Janssen, the Belgian arm of the US pharmaceutical giant, could be given emergency authorisation and rolled out in Britain by mid-February. The UK has already struck a deal for 30million doses, with the option of ordering 22million more.

If approved, it would be the third Covid jab in the UK’s arsenal and could significantly speed up the programme which has been held back by supply shortages.

A fourth jab, made my US firm Moderna, sealed approval earlier this month but doses won’t arrive until March because of an exclusive deal with the American Government. Developed by Janssen, the vaccine uses a harmless adenovirus to deliver genetic material that tricks the human body into producing proteins known as antigens, normally found on the coronavirus’s surface, helping the immune system develop an arsenal against infection.

Like the Oxford jab, which also uses adenoviral vectors, it can be stored and transported in normal fridges. However the key difference is that the J&J jab is designed to be effective as a single dose, whereas Oxford and Pfizer’s is given in two shots three or more weeks apart.

If trials show it is effective at blocking Covid, it will become the first approved jab to work in a single injection and could rapidly speed up mass immunisation plans. The 30million doses already ordered by the UK could be enough to reach almost half of the population.

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‘Pharmaceutical companies, vaccine developers, have moral societal and contractual responsibilities which they need to uphold.

‘The view that the company is not obliged to deliver because we signed a best effort agreement is neither correct nor is it acceptable.

‘The 27 European Union member states are united that AstraZeneca needs to deliver on its commitments in our agreements.’

Following talks with AstraZeneca last night, Miss Kyriakides tweeted: ‘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.’ 

It was also reported last night Britain had ordered enough vaccines for the year – of 367million doses, enough for 5.5 per person – and could end up dishing them out to other countries anyway – meaning EU countries would benefit.

A source told the Times: ‘There is plenty of vaccine. It exceeds what the government wants to do.’

The industry insider also told the newspaper the demands from Brussels were ‘political rhetoric’ and would be a ‘human rights issue’ if they did try to divert doses.

They said: ‘They cannot stop vaccines that are contracted for delivery. Some of these vaccines have already been given to people who are due to receive their second dose. It would be a human rights issue for millions of people if that process was stopped.’

Mr Johnson said it would have been a ‘great pity’ if the UK had stayed in the EU’s vaccine programme rather than set up its own plan.

‘I do think that we’ve been able to do things differently, and better, in some ways,’ the Prime Minister told MPs. More than a tenth of the UK population has received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

This compares to just 1.75 per cent in France, 1.96 per cent in Germany, 2.50 per cent in Spain and 2.15 per cent in Italy.

Meanwhile experts revealed how Britain’s vaccine roll out will limit the spread of coronavirus, but by exactly how much will not be made clear until mid-February.

Providing a boost to the UK’s hopes of ending lockdown, England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said jabs ‘couldn’t fail to have some effect on transmission’.

He said it was less a question of ‘will they?’ and rather ‘to what extent’ will inoculation help to reduce the spread.

But Boris Johnson and his chief scientists said last night that experts won’t know much effect the coronavirus vaccines are having on the country’s epidemic until mid-February.

These set of graphs show the number of vaccines ordered by the UK and the EU. The EU has also ordered a number of other vaccines, including 300million Sanofi-GSK doses and 405million CureVac doses

These set of graphs show the number of vaccines ordered by the UK and the EU. The EU has also ordered a number of other vaccines, including 300million Sanofi-GSK doses and 405million CureVac doses

These set of graphs show the number of vaccines ordered by the UK and the EU. The EU has also ordered a number of other vaccines, including 300million Sanofi-GSK doses and 405million CureVac doses

The PM said the impact of the jabs won’t be felt in hospital and deaths data until then due to the lag in time it takes between getting injected and developing immunity.

He told a Downing Street press conference tonight that he would not consider lifting lockdown restrictions until he’d seen concrete ‘evidence that those graphs are coming down’.

The immunisation drive has only really got up to speed in the last few weeks and it takes between a fortnight and a month for a person to build up immunity.

Both the Pfizer and Oxford University vaccines have been proven to block severe illness, so experts hope they’ll start to make a dent in the death and hospitalisation rates in the coming weeks.

No10’s scientists will be monitoring those metrics, specifically in the most vulnerable groups – including the over-80s, over-75s and care homes residents – who are currently receiving the jabs.

So far 6.8million, or one in 10, people in Britain have received at least one dose of the vaccines. In three weeks time, when most of those people have protection, experts will expect to see a near 10 per cent drop in hospital admissions.

Not all of the people vaccinated will be immune, however, because the jabs are not perfect. Pfizer’s is 95 per cent effective at blocking severe disease, while Oxford’s is around 70 per cent.

Another burning question which will determine how gung-ho ministers can be with easing restriction is to what extent the vaccines stop people from spreading Covid.

The Government has commissioned a study to investigate the vaccines and their role on transmission, which is being overseen by Public Health England. It is focused on frontline healthcare workers who’ve been jabbed.

England’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, told tonight’s Downing Street press conference: ‘I think you’ve got to be extremely cautious and wait until we’ve got proper data.

‘It’s too early to say what’s happening in the UK. It’s being looked at very, very carefully. You shouldn’t expect to see nobody getting ill who’s been vaccinated. Vaccines are not 100 per cent effective. We will still see people who get disease.

‘We will still see people who get severe disease, but it will be much, much reduced with the vaccine, and we need to wait and look at the data and get proper estimates of that rather than try to make early cuts and guesses as to what this is showing.’

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