Boris Johnson has championed ‘the might of the private sector’ as crucial to the delivery of Britain’s successful vaccine programme following attacks on AstraZeneca by EU leaders.
Brussels has accused the Anglo-Swedish firm of not supplying the bloc with enough doses and threatened to seize shipments bound for the UK.
Emergency weekend talks between Brussels and London are believed to have defused the row, with both sides close to striking a deal that avoids any embargo on vaccine leaving the Continent.
But today the Prime Minister launched an impassioned defence of the free market, hailing it the lynchpin facilitating the jab drive, which has now inoculated 29million people.
Speaking to the virtual Conservative Spring Forum, he said: ‘In the end, none of this would have been possible without the innovative genius and commercial might,’ he added.
‘And you know what I’m going to say – the might of the private sector – the free market economy. Because at the heart of this vaccine rollout, there is a huge and unmissable lesson about the need for private risk-taking capitalist energy.’
His unabashed support for capitalism came after he privately told MPs this week that ‘greed’ had contributed to the vaccine drive, before quickly rowing back.
Boris Johnson has said ‘the might of the private sector’ underpins the UK’s successful vaccination programme following attacks on AstraZeneca by EU leaders
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 in about two weeks’ time at the start of April – is produced in Switzerland, which is not an EU member and so not under von der Leyen’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.
Even if all the 2.8m second doses given in the UK so far were all Pfizer, the country still needs more than eight million extra doses to hit that target.
And it also hopes for another 14million so it can immunise the total 20million for whom doses were ordered.
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).’
Britain’s soaring vaccination numbers contrast with the EU, which has been beset by supply and take-up blunders.
To increase stockpiles, the EU had been toying with the idea of blocking shipments from the Continent.
On Thursday EU leaders stepped back from the brink of imposing the ban following an appeal from Angela Merkel for the diplomatic approach.
It paved the way for weekend crisis talks, but an agreement had looked unlikely following tough talk from Emmanuel Macron, who was leading a group of hardline member states in pushing for the export embargo, which could affect the delivery of second doses in Britain.
The threats sparked a furious response from across the Channel, with Tory MPs railing against the EU’s ‘appalling vaccine nationalism.’
Conservative MP Philip Davies told MailOnline: ‘I think the French and the EU should take note of the maxim: when you’re in hole, stop digging.’
He added: ‘It goes to prove we were so right to leave the EU, they’re thrashing around trying to cover for their own incompetence and in turn are behaving like a protectionist racket.
‘I think the Prime Minister was completely right when he said that no company is going to want to do business in an organisation that blocks exports, and has no respect for contract law.’
Tory MP Bob Seely, a member of the Commons foreign affairs committee, said: ‘At a time when everyone has a duty to be working together, for both the good of the EU and the UK, the wretched vaccine nationalism of some EU politicians is appalling.’
After a week of rising tensions, Boris Johnson’s lead negotiator, the former ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow, is understood to have broken the impasse.
Diplomatic sources told The Times an agreement was expected imminently.
They added it was Sir Tim who had clinched the deal, rather than the Prime Minister’s new pointman for Brussels, Lord Frost.
Lord Frost, who was recently elevated to the Cabinet, negotiated the post-Brexit trade deal and often takes a tough stance in talks.
The row reached boiling point yesterday when France’s foreign minister accused the UK of ‘blackmailing’ the EU by insisting it needs the doses to give vaccinated people their next injection.
The UK has adopted a strategy of waiting 12 weeks between first and second doses to inoculate more people as just one injection still provides significant immunity – 29million have now been jabbed.
But yesterday foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian took a swipe at the British rollout: ‘The United Kingdom has taken great pride in vaccinating well with the first dose except they have a problem with the second dose.
‘You are vaccinated when you have had both doses. Today there are as many people vaccinated with both in France as the United Kingdom…
‘You can’t be playing like this, a bit of blackmail, just because you hurried to get people vaccinated with a first shot, and now you’re a bit handicapped because you don’t have the second one.’
Yet a senior government source stressed the UK has enough supplies to give people their second dose.
They said: ‘We are confident in vaccine targets, offering first dose to all over-50s by April 15 and all adults by July 31, as well as second doses.’
There are understood to be around 12million second doses due to be administered in April.
Britain produces around two million doses a week of AstraZeneca vaccine and imports the Pfizer jab from Belgium. While insiders have said they have enough supplies ‘on stream’ to deliver millions of second doses required over the coming months, it is unclear if these doses are already in the UK.
Complicating the picture is India’s confirmation that it will ban export of vaccines, which could further delay the shipment of five million doses that has already forced the UK to slow the number of injections in April.
Many mass vaccinations centres will close next month as the UK ‘pauses’ the roll-out of first doses to the under-50s due to the supply shortage.
The UK’s vaccine rollout has surged far ahead of the EU’s leaving the bloc under huge pressure to explain why
UK infection rates have been brought right down while much of the EU is grappling with a third wave of coronavirus
Emmanuel Macron speaking after the summit and gesturing to a graph which appears to show the shortfall in doses from AstraZeneca (far right bar on his graph). He struck a defiant as he called the blockade threat ‘the end of naivety’
Britain’s vaccine rollout continues apace while EU lags behind
The UK’s vaccine programme continues apace while the EU remains beset with supply difficulties and low take-up rates.
While Britain has jabbed more than half of its adults, the EU lags on about 15 per cent.
Brussels’ problems can be traced to sluggish initial efforts to procure vaccine – which even Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has compared to a ‘tanker’ to the UK’s ‘speedboat’.
After coming in for criticism, Boris Johnson has won plaudits for opting out of the EU’s centralised buying scheme and deciding to go it alone.
The UK’s vaccine taskforce bet big on several manufacturers early in the pandemic, quickly ordering 40million Pfizer/BioNTech doses and 100million Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs before they had even been cleared.
Early approval by the UK medical regulator also meant the UK was quick off the mark to start inoculating citizens last December.
A strategy of prioritising first doses – leaving a 12-week gap until the second – is also helping the country streak ahead in terms of vaccination rates.
In contrast, the EU was flat-footed to procure doses, signing deals months after the UK. Britain points out this is why AstraZeneca is honouring its contract with the UK.
Many EU countries also suspended the AstraZeneca jab briefly this month for fear of blood clotting, before u-turning when the EMA ruled it was safe.
Doubt cast on the jab has fuelled scepticism from citizens and beset the EU with low take-up rates.
EU-UK talks have been happening behind closed doors, and yesterday a Commission spokesperson said: ‘Our common aim is to ensure we have good co-operation in terms of supply chains and producing the vaccine.’
France, Italy and Spain were continuing to talk tough ahead of the weekend negotiations concerning a disputed 10million doses from a Dutch AstraZeneca plant, some of which are bound for Britain.
Brussels accuses AstraZeneca of reneging on its contract to supply the bloc with 120million doses in the first quarter, having only delivered 30million so far.
Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick said it would be ‘very damaging if countries started to pull up drawbridges and prevent vaccines, medicines or elements of them from crossing international borders’.
The Communities Secretary refused to be drawn on whether Britain – where critical vaccine components are also manufactured – would respond with a tit-for-tat ban, saying ‘that kind of talk is unhelpful’.
But hardline EU nations justified their support for halting shipments of vaccine by accusing the UK of failing to export any doses to the Continent.
Throwing his weight firmly behind the ban, Macron fumed: ‘Europe is not a selfish continent. Because when I read what the press on the other side of the Channel writes, we’re being accused of being selfish. Wrong! We let our supply chains untouched.
‘But we saw that the United States tend to protect their own vaccine production… that the United Kingdom did not export many doses. Actually, none. So we put in place an export control mechanism.’
At the meeting Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen briefed leaders that the UK needs the vaccine manufactured in the EU because the AstraZeneca jabs made in the UK are not enough to inoculate citizens with second doses.
She threatened to block AstraZeneca vaccine exports to Britain until the firm ‘catches up’ on its deliveries to the Continent.
Britain has vaccinated more than half of its adult population, while the EU has only managed to inoculate about 15 per cent.
The UK has received considerably more doses per capita, and has inoculated 14million people with the Oxford-developed jab from plants in Britain. The UK is also believed to have approximately 10million in storage for second doses.
Britain points out that it negotiated a tighter ‘exclusivity’ contract with the Anglo-Swedish firm and signed the deal earlier than the EU’s ‘best efforts’ contracts – and that EU vaccine factories rely on supplies from the UK so any trade war could shut down vaccine production completely.
When Pfizer doses are included, the EU says it has exported 21million doses to the UK, while none have been shipped from Britain to the EU.
The Prime Minister today hailed the UK’s vaccine taskforce in procuring jabs quickly, doubling down on previous comments hailing the benefits of capitalism
This chart shows how the AstraZeneca supply chain looks across Europe
The third wave could be WORST so far in Europe: Covid cases surge as France extends lockdown and Germany starts demanding negative test before they let French visitors in
By Chris Jewers for MailOnline
France has extended its coronavirus lockdown, while Germany has started to demand negative tests from French visitors before allowing them to cross the border as a third wave of Covid-19 infections ‘could be the worst so far’ in Europe.
On Friday, France reported 41,869 new COVID-19 cases after registering 45,641 on Thursday and 35,088 a week ago, putting the hospital system under severe strain.
The number of people in intensive care units with COVID-19 rose by 57 to a 2021 high of 4,766, health ministry data showed.
Responding to the rising numbers across the border, Germany has declared all of France, including its overseas territories, as a ‘high incidence area’ for the coronavirus.
The decision on Friday by Germany’s disease control agency means people travelling from France must provide a negative test result before crossing into Germany.
Germany’s health body – The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) – also added neighbouring Denmark to its list of ‘risk areas,’ requiring 10-day quarantine after arrival in Germany, as the country also struggles with the third wave.
‘There are clear signals that this wave will be worse than the first two waves,’ RKI’s Lothar Wieler said, as he urged people to stay at home over Easter. ‘We have some very difficult weeks ahead of us.’
France has extended its lockdown amid a third wave of Covid-19 infections in Europe, while Germany has started to demand negative tests from French visitors before allowing them to cross the border. Pictured: Eiffel Tower is seen empty of people as a new lockdown takes place in France, decided by the government to fight the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, on Monday 22 March 2021
Pictured: Passengers wait at the check-in counter at the Dusseldorf International Airport in Dusseldorf, Germany, 26 March 2021. The decision on Friday by Germany’s disease control agency means people travelling from France must provide a negative test result before crossing into Germany
Clement Beaune, France’s junior minister for European affairs, assured citizens that Germany won’t fully close the border, saying in a statement that there would also be exemptions for those who live close to it on the French side.
He added that French-German consultations are on-going ‘in the hope that these restrictions will apply for the shortest possible time.’
Meanwhile, Germany’s health officials are urging people to stay home during the upcoming Easter break to help slow the rapidly rising numbers of new infections, that have been blamed largely on the virus variant first found in the UK.
Health Minister Jens Spahn says if infections continue unchecked, Germany’s health system could be stretched to its limit in April.
‘If this continues unchecked, we will face the danger that our health care system will reach capacity during the month of April,’ Spahn said.
On the decision to require tests from French arrivals, Spahn said: ‘This is a precautionary measure to prevent the virus to spread because of holiday trips.’
The head of the RKI said Germany is just at the ‘beginning of the third wave’ of the pandemic. Covid-19 cases increased by 20,472 to 2,755,225, data from the institute showed on Saturday. The reported death toll rose by 157 to 75,780, the tally showed.
On Friday, Germany reported 21,573 new cases, compared to 17,482 a week earlier.
The number of new weekly infections per 100,000 people was 119 on Friday, compared to 70 two weeks ago, Spahn said.
He said more than 10 percent of Germans had received at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in a slow rollout of vaccines in Europe.
Germany was in the final stages of the ‘pandemic marathon’, but the country’s health system could reach its limit in April, Spahn warned.
‘There are clear signals that this wave will be worse than the first two waves,’ RKI’s Lothar Wieler (pictured on Friday) said, as he urged people to stay at home over Easter. ‘We have some very difficult weeks ahead of us.’
The French government announced increased police checks on Friday to enforce travel restrictions in place in Paris and several other regions as coronavirus cases continue to soar around the country.
Checks at train stations, airports and motorway toll booths will ‘increase from today’, the prime minister’s office said, describing the situation as ‘critical’ with the arrival of a third wave of infections.
The move came after France placed three more departments in limited lockdown, with around 20 million people, including those in the Paris region, prohibited from travelling further than six miles from home except for essential reasons.
There is also a nightly curfew in place nationwide starting at 7:00 pm.
French President Emmanuel Macron has come under fire for going against the advice of scientific experts and his health minister at the end of January, when he decided not to impose a national lockdown.
‘These coming weeks will be difficult. We’ll take effective measures at the right time and to my mind there are no taboos,’ Macron said late Thursday.
‘I have no mea culpa to issue, no regrets and no sense of a failure,’ he added, defending his decision to keep a state of semi-openness at the end of January.
Pictured: A man wearing a face mask walks past a digital billboard showing a public health message reading: ‘Get Tested, Get Vaccinated, Be careful’ in Berlin on March 26, 2021
Pictured: Passengers walk past a sign for the coronavirus test center at the Dusseldorf International Airport in Dusseldorf, Germany, 26 March 2021. A sign directs travellers to a Covid-19 test center
Daily cases in France have nearly doubled since the start of the month, reaching over 45,000 on Thursday, with the number of people in intensive care now nearly the same level as during the second wave in November.
In Paris, the pressure on hospitals is even greater, with the bulk of non-essential surgeries being cancelled to free up beds amid the rapid spread of the more contagious British variant, which now causes the majority of infections nationwide.
Nearly one in every 170 people is currently infected in the capital region, official data shows.
Schools across the country remain open, though individual classes in high-risk departments will now close if just one student tests positive, instead of three previously.
‘That will necessarily mean more class closures in the coming days,’ Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said Friday, calling outright school shutdowns to slow the virus a ‘last resort.’
The number of new coronavirus cases in children under 15 has accelerated sharply over the past week, the Sante Publique France health authority said Friday.
‘The British variant… is not more contagious for children, but it is as contagious for children as for adults,’ the agency’s respiratory infections chief Daniel Levy-Bruhl said.
French President Emmanuel Macron (pictured) has come under fire for going against the advice of scientific experts and his health minister at the end of January, when he decided not to impose a national lockdown
Prime Minister Jean Castex has called France’s efforts to avoid a painful nationwide lockdown a ‘third way’ in its Covid fight, but many medical experts consider the restrictions not tough enough.
‘I understand the strategy of wanting to do gradual measures, but with the situation we are in I’m not sure that they are going to slow down the epidemic,’ Solen Kerneis, an infectious diseases specialist at the Bichat hospital in northern Paris, told AFP.
France’s vaccination campaign has also been sluggish amid a chronic shortage of doses, with only around 10 percent of the population having received at least one dose.
The top health watchdog recommended offering the jabs to dentists and vets on Friday in a modest widening of the eligibility criteria, with the focus until now on vaccinating the over-75s, medical personnel and those with existing health problems.
Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Friday the government would take action against healthcare workers who refuse to be vaccinated against coronavirus, following new reports of infections in hospitals.
‘The government intends to intervene,’ Draghi told a news conference. ‘It’s absolutely not good that unvaccinated workers are in contact with sick people.’
The prime minister said Justice Minister Marta Cartabia was preparing regulation, likely a decree, but the details had not yet been determined.
On Thursday, Liguria region president Giovanni Toti called for a national law after at least 12 people were infected with coronavirus at two hospitals in the area due to two unvaccinated health workers.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi (pictured on in Rome on Friday) said on Friday the government would take action against healthcare workers who refuse to be vaccinated against coronavirus, following new reports of infections in hospitals
‘In light of the need to protect citizens at a fragile time, such as hospitalisation, there may be the legal conditions, and also political, for a measure,’ Toti said.
‘It’s clear that we need a national law, because we risk chaos in our hospitals in a few weeks,’ he added, calling for a ‘clear regulatory framework’.
Italy has a small but significant ‘anti-vaxx’ movement and some experts fear their numbers may swell following safety fears over the AstraZeneca coronavirus jab.
The use of the vaccine was suspended last week across several EU countries before the bloc’s regulator declared it safe.
How many health workers in Italy have opted not to be vaccinated is unknown, although vaccination is not mandatory.
Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Friday, however, it amounted to a ‘very minimal’ number of people.
In his news conference, the 73-year-old Draghi confirmed he was in line to get jabbed with the AstraZeneca vaccine.
‘I hope next week, I made a booking,’ he said.
Italy was the first European country to be hit by the coronavirus pandemic 13 months ago and has recorded more than 105,000 deaths.
However, it has struggled with its vaccination campaign, as logistical and organisational gremlins added to EU-wide supply shortages.
Italy is particularly lagging behind on vaccinations for the elderly, despite them being at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus.
The country has administered 8.7 million doses and fully vaccinated just under 2.8 million people – less than five percent of the total population of 60 million.
For people aged 80 and above, full vaccination rates range from 41.2 percent in South Tyrol to 6.2 percent in Sardinia, according to the GIMBE health think tank.
Draghi also commented on missing vaccine deliveries from AstraZeneca, and on rival claims over them from Britain and the EU.
With vaccine deliveries falling short in Italy, some regional politicians have called for authorities to also use Russia’s Sputnik jab. Pictured: A health worker prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine at a coronavirus vaccination centre at at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on March 24
London and Brussels should reach a settlement ‘rather fast’, because ‘neither … wants to fight in court for I don’t know how many years, 10 or 20’, he said.
Last week, Italian police found 29 million AstraZeneca doses in a factory south of Rome, raising suspicions about their final destination.
AstraZeneca denied media reports that they were destined for Britain, insisting that they were set to be delivered to the EU and the developing world.
With vaccine deliveries falling short in Italy, some regional politicians have called for authorities to also use Russia’s Sputnik jab.
But Draghi sounded sceptical, as he noted that the European Medicines Agency was still studying its safety and effectiveness.
It will not be completed ‘before three or four months’, so ‘if things go well, the [Russian] vaccine will not be available before the second half of the year’, he said.
In sighs that Europe is taking steps in the right direction for its vaccination rollout, the European Medicines Agency has approved new manufacturing sites for coronavirus vaccines made by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.
The move could significantly boost Europe’s supply of the shots.
In a statement published on Friday, the EU medicines regulator says it had approved sites in the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland for vaccines made by the companies.
The new approvals come amid the 27-nation bloc’s struggles to ramp up COVID-19 vaccination and repeated delivery delays and manufacturing problems.
In addition, the EMA says it was granting ‘more flexible storage conditions’ to the Pfizer vaccine – which was cleared on the basis that it needed ultra-cold freezer temperatures for storage and delivery.
Britain is also close to striking a vaccine deal with the European Union as soon as this weekend that will remove the threat of the bloc cutting off supplies, The Times reported on Saturday.
Under the agreement the EU will remove its threat to ban the export of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to Britain, it added.
In return, the UK government will agree to forgo some long-term supplies of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that had been due to be exported from Holland, the newspaper reported.
On Friday, the European Medicines Agency approved Halix production site in the Netherlands that makes the AstraZeneca vaccine and a facility in Marburg in Germany producing BioNTech/Pfizer shots.
The EU’s clearing of the vaccine site comes as the union is banking on them to boost deliveries in the second quarter and accelerate the slow pace of inoculations in the bloc.
Europe’s troubled vaccine rollout has led to a quarrel with Britain, which has imported 21 million doses made in the EU, according to an EU official. Britain says it did a better job negotiating with manufacturers and arranging supply chains.
The EU says that Britain should share more, notably to help make up the shortfall in contracted deliveries of AstraZeneca shots.
Brussels and London sought to cool tensions on Wednesday, declaring they were working ‘to create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all our citizens’.