Britain will offer to share millions of doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine made at a factory in the Netherlands in a desperate peace offering to the European Union, it was claimed today.
Boris Johnson is trying to defuse a vaccine stand-off with EU chiefs, who are facing a third wave of coronavirus on the continent, and warning that Britain could also suffer from yet another spike in infections ‘in due course’.
The Prime Minister warned today that ‘previous experience has taught us that when a wave hits our friends, it washes up on our shores as well’ and said the UK’s best defence was to keep vaccinating at full speed.
Infection numbers are surging yet again in major countries across the channel, including France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands but, for now, they remain flat and low in the UK, which has a far better vaccine programme.
Mr Johnson’s comments come amid growing fears the EU will push ahead with an extraordinary export ban on Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs made on the continent, in a move which could delay the UK’s rollout by months.
The row appears to be centred around a factory run by the firm Halix in Leiden, Netherlands, which has promised supplies to both the UK and Europe but is not yet an approved supplier to either. Halix has already shipped a batch of unknown size to Britain but it can’t yet be used, MailOnline understands, and is reported to be in possession of five to 10million more doses that the EU and UK are now wrangling over.
European chiefs are threatening to shut down exports if they don’t get priority access to vaccines made on their turf, regardless of companies’ agreements with the UK, so Downing Street is considering offering some of the supplies as a compromise, The Times reports.
In other twists and turns in the coronavirus crisis today:
- AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine is 100 per cent effective at keeping people out of hospital and stopping them dying of the disease, a US trial found today;
- Ministers today dealt a fresh blow to hopes of summer holidays abroad this year as they urged Britons to ‘hold off’ on booking a foreign trip
- Every adult will be encouraged to test themselves at least twice a week under new plans to help ease Britain out of lockdown;
- Half of Britain’s cases are now being checked for jab-resistant variants that could derail the coronavirus exit strategy.
Germany is one of several European countries heading for tough new lockdown measures as cases spike amid a stalled vaccine roll-out that has left people unprotected
The fixer: Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured today) has sent one of his closest allies to India this week in hope of resolving the diplomatic stand-off which could see Britain miss out on 5m doses of AZ vaccine made at the nation’s Serum Institute
Lord Lister (left) will visit the factory — which is sitting on 5million doses the UK was expecting this month — with international trade adviser David Quarrey (right) to negotiate letting the shipment through
AT A GLANCE: DUTCH FACTORY AT THE CENTRE OF THE VACCINE ROW
The AstraZeneca vaccine row appears to be revolving around a single factory in the Netherlands which is supplying the UK with vaccine.
The EU has not yet listed this factory as an approved supplier so can’t use anything it makes, but is demanding that it gets priority access when it does approve it, which is expected to happen this week.
The plant was opened in 2019 in Leiden, Netherlands, and is run by HALIX, a medicines manufacturer that was set up in 2012.
HALIX agreed to manufacture the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in a deal made directly with the university in April 2020.
Other similar vaccines for HIV, Zika and flu have also been made at the facility, meaning it is experienced.
The factory floor covers 6,700m2 – almost the size of a professional football pitch (7,140m2).
It uses huge 1,000-litre bioreactors to farm the active ingredient that goes in the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is essentially a type of cold virus from chimpanzees that has been edited in a way to make it look like the coronavirus. This must be grown naturally and allowed to multiply in huge vats for up to three months at a time.
This is then sent to other facilities for ‘fill and finish’, in which manufacturers put the vaccine into vials, test it and ship it.
The Leiden factory is understood to have sent some doses to the UK at the very start of the rollout but not to have supplied large amounts of doses.
However, it is now said to have enough to make between five and 10million doses of the vaccine – made before the EU had approved the facility, meaning it was under contract with the UK – and this is what politicians are now scrapping over,
Experts have warned the EU’s export ban could hit UK supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine in May and June. One source suggested the fall in supply could be as much as 20 per cent, but another said the figure was likely to be lower.
An insider told MailOnline that the number of jabs at stake was far lower than the 19million claimed over recent days, and insisted the target for vaccinating all over 50s and then all adults by July is not at risk. ‘We are OK,’ the insider said.
However, with the pace already set to dip next month because of a shortfall in supply from India, the EU threat will raise concerns that the rollout is vulnerable.
An independent analysis last night suggested a total EU export ban could delay the UK’s programme by up to two months. Data analytics firm Airfinity said a total ban would pose ‘a significant risk’.
The EU-UK row centres around one of AstraZeneca’s main manufacturing site in the Netherlands, which has yet to receive EU regulatory approval to supply the continent even though it was listed in the initial deal between the vaccine maker and the bloc.
The plant, run by subcontractor Halix, has not supplied Europe with a single dose of vaccine, despite reportedly having the means to make at least 5million doses.
The mystery around the Halix site is believed to be the reason why AstraZeneca is on track to fall roughly 10million doses short of its target to get 40m to the continent by the end of March.
Halix’s factory is one of two sites, along with the Seneffe plant in Belgium, where the vaccine drug substance is produced, before being shipped off to be packaged into vials in Germany and Italy.
Ministers stressed the EU has previously vowed it will not ‘block companies from fulfilling their contractual obligations’. ‘We expect the EU to stand by their commitments,’ said care minister Helen Whately.
In a round of interviews this morning, Ms Whately told BBC Radio 4’s Today: ‘What we’re hearing at the moment is some speculation, some conjecture, an element of rhetoric.
‘But what is actually important is that the EU and no country should follow vaccine nationalism or vaccine protectionism.
‘We expect the European Union to stick by their commitments and I’m sure the Prime Minister will be in contact with European counterparts – he speaks to European counterparts regularly – but I don’t think this debate is helpful to anybody.
‘What matters is for all countries to be getting on and deploying and vaccinating their population.’
Ms Whately refused to rule out UK retaliation if there was an effort to ban exports. ‘I don’t think it is very helpful to speculate at the moment. I don’t think this is a helpful line to go down,’ she said.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told LBC Radio: ‘I don’t think the EU is helping itself here, I don’t think it has helped itself much in the last few weeks and months on the whole question of the vaccine.
‘I don’t think they should go down this road of banning exports.’
The UK is already facing a squeeze on vaccine supplies in April after delays in stocks from India, and Sir Keir said the dispute with the EU needed to be resolved as quickly as possible ‘because we don’t want any shortage in vaccines to interrupt the rollout in this country’.
Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, threatened to hold hostage more than 19 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to be shipped to the UK over the coming weeks
A factory in the Netherlands which produces Astra Zeneca jabs for the UK will now be stopped from shipping vital vaccine ingredients to Britain
BORIS JOHNSON WARNS A THIRD WAVE OF COVID IN EUROPE ‘MAY WASH UP ON OUR SHORES’
Boris Johnson warned that a third wave of coronavirus currently sweeping across Europe could ‘wash up on our shores’ today as he tried to fight off a fresh rebellion by lockdown hawks.
The Prime Minister is facing Tory backbench demands to speed up the UK’s journey out of lockdown off the back of the runaway success of the vaccine programme.
A hardcore is threatening to vote against emergency legislation underpinning the closures that needs to be voted through by MPs later this week.
But Downing Street insisted today that the legislation, which can only be extended for a period of six months at a time, was needed to ensure the smooth running of the furlough scheme and sick pay benefits.
Mr Johnson’s press secretary told reporters the PM would use ‘every opportunity’ to make the case to unhappy Conservative MPs that the current roadmap is going at the right pace.
And speaking on a visit to the BAE Systems factor in Warton, Lancashire today, Mr Johnson said he expected the third wave of Covid-19 infections to arrive at the UK’s door.
‘People in this country should be under no illusions that previous experience has taught us that when a wave hits our friends, it washes up on our shores as well,’ he said.
‘I expect that we will feel those effects in due course.
Mr Wallace also said it would be ‘counterproductive’ for the EU to impose a ban as ‘the one thing we know about vaccine production and manufacturing is that it is collaborative’.
However, an EU official doubled down on the threat yesterday evening, with reports emerging that a factory in the Netherlands which produces Astra Zeneca jabs for the UK will now be stopped from shipping vital vaccine ingredients to Britain.
The Leiden-based plant which is run by sub-contractor Halix is listed as a supplier of vaccines in both the contracts that AstraZeneca has signed with Britain and with the European Union.
The EU official said: ‘The Brits are insisting that the Halix plant in the Netherlands must deliver the drug substance produced there to them. That doesn’t work. What is produced in Halix has to go to the EU.’
Britain has insisted that contracts must be respected. The EU official hit back to claim the bloc would not be in breach of any contract.
The source told The Daily Telegraph: ‘The EU has not got its act together in distributing the vaccine. The EU is sitting on stockpiles of over 12million doses.
‘We really don’t understand this threat of an export ban from Ursula von der Leyen. It sounds like political posturing.’
European commissioner Mairead McGuinness yesterday confirmed restrictions on exports to the UK will be ‘on the table’ at the summit.
She said EU citizens were ‘growing angry and upset at the fact that the vaccine rollout has not happened as rapidly as we had anticipated’.
Miss McGuinness told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show it was unfair that AstraZeneca was ‘supplying the UK but not the European Union’.
Mr Wallace said ministers had no choice but to take seriously the ‘alarmist language’. He warned that imposing an export ban would be a ‘very damaging thing to happen for a trading bloc which prides itself on the rule of law’.
And he urged the EU to switch to a ‘grown up’ approach and ‘not indulge in rhetoric but to recognise the obligations that we all have, pull together, where can we maximise supply and help roll out that supply’.
Whitehall sources played down the prospect that the UK would impose a tit-for-tat ban on the export of vaccine ingredients to manufacturers based in the EU, such as the lipid molecules vital to the production of the Pfizer jab that come from Yorkshire.
But they pointed out that EU countries are already sitting on millions of doses which many citizens are reluctant to take due to false scare stories spread by their own leaders.
One source accused the European Commission of threatening Britain in order to divert attention from its dismal record on vaccine procurement.
‘The more they pick a fight with Britain, the less scrutiny there is of their own actions,’ the source said. ‘They are causing long term damage to their relationship with us in order to save the political careers of a few. Reckless doesn’t cover it.’
Tory MP Michael Fabricant said: ‘I suspect even Remainers must now see the EU for what it is – overblown, incompetent, wasteful and vindictive.’
Boris Johnson privately warned European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen against any export restriction in a phone call last week.
The Prime Minister is also trying to build an alliance of EU countries to help block the ban, which has the support of both France and Germany.
EU member states had administered 10.4 vaccine doses per 100 people as of Saturday, compared to the 42.7 jabs administered per 100 in the UK.
Earlier on Sunday, European Commissioner for financial services Mairead McGuinness said ‘everything is on the table’ and the EU’s focus is on ‘protecting our citizens’.
She also said there is a need for both sides to ‘calm down’ amid the escalating war of words over vaccine supply but her decision to repeat Ursula von der Leyen’s threat is unlikely to dampen tensions.
The EU continues to face criticism over the glacial speed of its vaccination programme and many of its members have been plunged into fresh lockdowns as
Meanwhile, Britain has smashed its vaccine record yet again with 874,000 jabs given in just one day – as the UK’s daily death toll fall by 36.5 per cent week-on-week.
The first and second dose figure recorded yesterday – which is equivalent to around 27 jabs a second – marks the second day in a row of record-beating figures, with 711,156 vaccines given on Friday.
It comes as the Government began working on plans to move the majority of the UK’s coronavirus vaccine production onshore to make Britain more self-sufficient, the
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is understood to have held talks with Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, about how to speed up production in the UK – and reduce the risk of other nations disrupting the rollout.
An insider said: ‘There is a lot of domestic production already. We are always looking at ways we can increase vaccine production in the UK. The Government is looking at ways vaccine supplies can be increased all the time.’
Brussels claims AstraZeneca has delivered only a third of the 90 million vaccine doses that it promised to the EU during the first quarter of this year, but has met its contract to supply the UK in full.
An irate Ms von der Leyen said the bloc reserved the right to hit back by banning the export of batches made by the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant to the UK. They account for around 20 per cent of Britain’s future supplies.
The explosive plan will be discussed at a European Council summit on Thursday, but already has the backing of French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Ms McGuinness told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that EU leaders will ‘make an assessment of the current situation’ when they discuss the matter.
‘I think what is terribly important this week, as you say, there is an increase in infections across Europe, alarming for everybody,’ she said.
‘But the leaders will meet this week and they will make an assessment of the current situation about the roll out of vaccines and perhaps make decisions.
‘But as the President of the Commission said herself, everything is on the table but there is no decision.’
Seeking to cool tensions, she added: ‘Frankly none of us have had a great Covid. I think all of us should put our hands up and say we were not prepared for this global pandemic, we did not do our best at the beginning but we are doing our best now to protect our citizens.
‘I think that is exactly what Europe is focused on is on protecting our citizens and once everyone is protected we are safe.
‘I think that we all need to, if you like, calm down, look very carefully, if you like, dispassionately at the situation around the raw materials for vaccines, around where they are produced and how we might ramp up that production.’
Government ministers have been scathing in their reaction to the export ban threat and Mr Wallace today added his voice to the chorus of senior figures criticising the EU’s approach.
He told Sophy Ridge on Sky News: ‘I will take the President of the European Commission’s words that she gave to the Prime Minister a few months ago that Europe and the European Commission and Europe were not going to engage in breaking contracts.
‘All of us recognise the importance of international law and upholding contract law around the world.
‘The European Union will know that the rest of the world is looking at the Commission about how it conducts itself.
‘If contracts get broken and undertakings, that is a very damaging thing to happen for a trading bloc that prides itself on the rule of law, prides itself on following contracts and being an open trading bloc.
‘The Commission knows deep down the world is watching what happens and also it would be counterproductive because the one thing we know about vaccine production and manufacturing is it is collaborative.’
Mr Wallace said the European Commission is ‘under tremendous political pressure’ and warned its reputation is at stake.
He said: ‘I think it is really a matter for them of how they deal with it. But the values that they espouse of the European Union of upholding the rule of law, being a trading bloc, all of that means that you follow those contracts, you honour them that you agreed, and I think it would damage the EU’s reputation globally should they renege on those things.’
A senior British Government official last night warned any move to ban jab exports would be illegal. ‘The reality is our contract with AstraZeneca is rock-solid and better than the EU’s,’ said the official. ‘And we’re only getting what we helped to develop and paid for.’
The EU’s disastrous vaccine rollout means barely 12 per cent of adults in France, Germany and Italy have so far had jabs. Swathes of Europe are now in lockdown, with almost three-quarters of the EU’s 27 member states suffering spiralling Covid-19 infection rates.
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