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Boris Johnson To Hold Urgent Talks With EU Leaders Urging Against Vaccine Export Ban

4 min read

The Prime Minister is reportedly planning to contact EU leaders in a series of one-to-one phonecalls amid a growing row over coronavirus vaccine supplies.

Virtual talks are already set to be held on Thursday between EU leaders to discuss issues with the issues in the supply chain of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab from the EU to the UK, but the Prime Minister is believed to be in touch with leaders today after reports over the weekend that the bloc would ban exports of the AstraZeneca to the UK. 

UK officials have already insisted that millions of doses being produced in an AstraZeneca factory in the Netherlands – which does not have regulatory approval to supply the EU – should come to the UK.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has repeatedly stated that the bloc could "forbid" exports of quantities of the jab produced on the continent being sent across the Channel.

Hitting back at claims that Brussels was engaging in "vaccine nationalism", she insisted that over 40 million doses had been exported from the EU to 33 countries in recent weeks, including 10 million to the UK.

In a series of phonecalls with EU leaders ahead of Thursday's summit, the PM hopes to persuade EU leaders to drop plans to block exports, amid fears that doing so could damage the UK's vaccination programme.

But speaking to Reuters, an 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."

The row comes amid a sluggish rollout of Covid-19 vaccines across the continent with several European countries facing a fresh wave of infections, including in France and Italy which have both been forced to reintroduce lockdown measures to stem the spread of the virus.

Speaking on Sunday, EU Commissioner Mairead McGuinness warned "everything is on the table" ahead of the summit.

"What's terribly important is there is an increase in infections across Europe, but the leaders will meet this week and they will make an assessment of the current situation about the roll-out of vaccines," she told the BBC's Andrew Marr.

"Everything is on the table but there is no decision. It was really important that we found out what was happening in relation to vaccine production.

"We do need to have a global view of where vaccines are being produced."

But the approach has been called "counterproductive" by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace amid growing fears that the EU's approach could spark a vaccine war between the UK and the bloc.

"If contracts and undertakings get broken, that is a very damaging thing to happen for a trading bloc which prides itself on the rule of law," he said on Sunday.

"The Commission know, deep down, the world is watching what happens," he added.

"The grown-up thing would be for the European Commission - and some of the European leaders – to work together and roll out that supply".

The latest row over the AstraZeneca jab comes as a new major US clinical trial found the jab had a 79% efficacy rate in preventing symptomatic disease and 100% efficacy against severe illness and hospitalisation.

It follows a safety row in Europe which saw the use of the jab suspended or paused in several European countries after there were a small number of reports of people suffering from blood clots.

Despite UK and EU regulators finding no proven link between the jab and the blood clots and stating its use "far outweighed" its risk, some countries have refused to restart using it until more data becomes available.

But in a crucial finding, the US trial concluded there was no safety concerns from the use of the jab, and found there was no increased risk of clots among the 20,000 people who received the jab.

However, new polling found the safety concerns had led to plummeting confidence in the jab, with more than half of people in France, Germany and Spain now believing the jab was unsafe.

The YouGov poll found that 61% of French respondents polled believed the vaccine was unsafe, an increase of 18 percentage points since February.

A majority (55%) of German respondents also felt the same, up 15 percentage points, while 52% of those in Spain felt the jab was unsafe, an increase of 27 percentage points since before the safety concerns were raised.

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