France and Germany have threatened legal action against the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca in the row over a shortage of coronavirus vaccine in the EU.
Talks between the European commission and the vaccine supplier are continuing over the lack of supply, with Brussels raising concerns that doses may have been diverted from plants in Belgium and Germany to the UK.
Centralised approach was meant to underline Europe’s solidarity but has had opposite effect
The EU has made an almighty hash of procuring treatments for Covid-19. Vaccine centres are running short of supplies as a result. National governments want jabs rather than excuses for what has gone wrong. The search for scapegoats is on.
Stripped of the legal wrangling between Brussels and AstraZeneca, the protectionist plan to ban exports of drugs and the now-abandoned plan to close the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, the EU has been incompetent – and no amount of bully-boy tactics can get away from that fact.
It started with a tweet by a blogger at 4.36pm on Friday. It ended with the prime ministers of the UK and Ireland warning the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, during late night calls, that she had put peace at risk by effectively seeking to erect a vaccine border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
“OK, I’m not usually on here any more, but I’m making an exception because this is very interesting: the EU’s regulation on export controls for vaccines *does* include vaccines going to Northern Ireland, and the EU is invoking Article 16 of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol,” @dijdowell had tweeted. “I really didn’t have Article 16 being used *by the EU* in the first month of the Protocol’s operation on my list of predictions for 2021. I would be fascinated – *fascinated* – to know what the Irish Government makes of setting this precedent.”
Brussels will publish a revised regulation to potentially block vaccine exports out of the EU on Saturday, after an international outcry over its initial plans to erect an export border for doses on the island of Ireland.
The European commission’s newly drafted implementing regulation is expected to be both unveiled and come into force on Saturday with officials insisting they would now “ensure that the Ireland-Northern Ireland protocol is unaffected”.
The shortfall in supply has put the EU and the UK at loggerheads, but ethical principles could reveal a solution
In normal times, a row between the EU, the UK and a private company over the timely delivery of a contract would be of interest to few apart from the two sides’ lawyers. But these are not normal times, and this is no ordinary contract.
The battle over the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine raises deeper ethical questions about who deserves priority access to a life-saving drug. It’s a discussion many countries have already had in a domestic context, where a consensus hasn’t been hard to reach: priority should be given to those who are most likely to catch or die of Covid-19, and therefore stand to benefit the most from a jab. But who should be prioritised for vaccination in the global context?
Alexis Papazoglou is host of the podcast The Philosopher & The News. He has a PhD in philosophy from the University of Cambridge and writes on the intersection between philosophy, politics and current affairs
Millions of doses of vaccines could be blocked from entering Britain from the EU within days, as part of Brussels’ response to a shortage of doses among its member states.
The European commission said a new authorisation mechanism would be established to give national regulators the power to refuse vaccine exports. The development will raise concerns over the continued flow of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, for which the UK has a 40m-dose order.
Last year AstraZeneca was heralded for its pioneering vaccine discovery. Yet today the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company is embroiled in a dispute with the European Union over claims that it is holding back vaccine deliveries for the bloc, while diverting supplies to Britain and other countries. But can AstraZeneca be blamed for the EU’s stuttering vaccine rollout, which is far behind Britain, the US and other countries?
Anger is certainly surging across the EU about the slow pace of vaccinations. The latest figures from Our World in Data reveal that just 2.1% of the EU population has received a vaccine, compared with 10.8% for the UK. The goal to vaccinate at least 70% of the EU’s population by this summer is wildly off – at the current pace, the bloc as a whole would reach only 15% by the end of September.
A row over coronavirus vaccine shortages in the EU has descended into farce as AstraZeneca denied claims by the European commission that it had pulled out of a crunch meeting over a breakdown in supplies.
Within minutes of a spokeswoman for the commission announcing that the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company was refusing to attend, the claim was rebutted in a short statement. “We can confirm we have not pulled out and will be attending talks with the EU commission later today,” a spokesman for AstraZeneca said.
Country will be first in EU to use antibody cocktails after government buys 200,000 doses
Specialist clinics in Germany will this week become the first hospitals in the EU to treat Covid-19 patients with expensive and experimental antibody cocktails used to treat the former US president Donald Trump after he caught the virus last October.
“Monoclonal antibodies will be used in Germany as the first country in the EU, initially in university clinics,” the health minister, Jens Spahn, told Bild am Sonntag newspaper, confirming that his government had bought 200,000 doses for €400m (£355m).
Supply delays underline there was no legal or economic justification for central planning
A storm is raging over the EU’s failure to have ordered more of the approved Covid-19 vaccines ahead of time. Stéphane Bancel, the CEO of the US pharmaceutical company Moderna, which gained approval for its vaccine shortly after Pfizer/BioNTech, claims that the EU has relied too much on “vaccines from its own laboratories”.
Did the European commission prioritise supporting its own pharmaceutical industry over protecting human lives? In fact, matters are not as simple as that. Contrary to what Bancel wants us to believe, the EU has actually ordered too little of its ownvaccine. After all, the vaccine that is being administered most widely across the west was developed by a German company, BioNTech, and thus comes from the EU (though it was tested and partly produced in partnership with Pfizer in the US and with Fosun Pharma in China).
EU leaders are to hold a pandemic video summit on 21 January after the bloc said it had reached a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech for 300m more doses of their Covid-19 vaccine, giving the EU nearly half the firms’ global output for 2021.
The move raised hopes for speedier inoculation across the continent as the European regulator, which this week approved the Moderna shot, said it would authorise six doses from each vial of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, increasing available jabs by 20%.
The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid jab is an mRNA vaccine. Essentially, mRNA is a molecule used by living cells to turn the gene sequences in DNA into the proteins that are the building blocks of all their fundamental structures. A segment of DNA gets copied (“transcribed”) into a piece of mRNA, which in turn gets “read” by the cell’s tools for synthesising proteins.
BioNtech has criticised the EU’s failure to order more doses of its coronavirus vaccine, saying it is now racing with its US partner Pfizer to boost production amid fears of a European “gap” left by the lack of other approved vaccines.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was the first to be approved by the bloc late last month, after being accepted by the UK, Canada and the US. They and other countries have also since approved the Moderna or Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, leaving the EU trailing behind.
Analysis: From retail to aviation to pharmaceuticals, we look at what will change from 1 January
After months of tortuous negotiations between the UK and the EU, a Brexit trade deal was agreed at almost the last minute. But how prepared are UK businesses for the significant changes that will come into force on 1 January? Are they happy with the terms of the agreement?
NHS leaders have written to the UK prime minister urging him to extend the Brexit transition period by a month to avoid plunging the healthcare service into chaos on 1 January.
The letter, published today by the NHS Confederation – a membership organisation representing NHS leaders from all parts of the health service, outlines concerns about the impact a no-deal outcome will have on delivering care to patients amid winter pressures and a rapid rise in COVID-19 infections.
“The failure to secure a Brexit deal will throw the NHS into further chaos and it will risk the health of patients and the working conditions of our staff,” wrote NHS Confederation chief executive Danny Mortimer. “The NHS might not be perceived to be on the Brexit negotiating table, but the disruption shockwaves from a no-deal outcome could push the NHS’ ability to function over the edge.”
The south east of England is expecting the worst impact, as ambulances and clinicians trying to reach patients face delays due to major congestion on the roads of Kent.
Mortimer added: “They will face these barriers to their critical work while facing some of the highest levels of COVID-19 infections and the additional risks that the increased traffic, lorry parks and congestion could increase the demand for NHS services in the South East. The South East will face disruption even if a deal is reached. Should a deal not be reached, the magnitude and extent of disruption will be of a much greater order.”
Other areas of concern for the NHS Confederation include medical supply shortages, lack of clarity on rules and reimbursement arrangements for EU citizens requiring treatment in the UK and the loss of participation in EU-wide data-sharing platforms to exchange information about health threats and the testing of new treatments.
Meanwhile, new research from the Nuffield Trust and academics from the Universities of Oxford, Sheffield and Michigan warns of a “perilously uncertain” future facing the UK health sector at the end of the Brexit transition period.
Their study examined nine areas of possible impact: health systems delivery, health systems workforce, medical supplies, health systems financing, leadership and governance, communicable diseases, non-communicable diseases, public health capacity and governance.
It highlights how a combination of migration barriers, an unknown level of disruption to medicines and devices, a prolonged economic slowdown, and barriers to investment in science will impact the health sector almost “immediately and into the future”.
Mark Dayan, Brexit programme lead at the Nuffield Trust, said there were many serious questions that needed answering over the future of the sector beyond the UK’s exit from the European Union.
“There are a particular set of fairly immediate issues which should be in sharp focus – from the double whammy of COVID-19 and Brexit-related workforce shortages and economic fallout to the very real danger of supply chains of medicines and medical devices being disrupted.
“But it doesn’t end there. There are some deeply concerning and unresolved issues that may affect health in the UK over many years to come and potentially risk the health of the UK population.”
A Belgian minister has inadvertently blown the lid off a sensitive and commercial secret – the price that the EU has agreed to pay for the leading Covid vaccines.
Belgium’s budget state ecretary, Eva De Bleeker, posted the price list on Twitter, with the amounts of each vaccine that her country intends to buy from the EU. The tweet was quickly deleted, but not soon enough to prevent interested parties taking screenshots, which have now made it public knowledge.
Companies are praying a trade agreement can be struck, but must prepare for talks to fail. Which will be most affected?
The scene is set for a showdown, and the future of the UK economy is at stake. Will Britain secure a free trade deal with the EU? Or will the prime minister choose to sail into uncharted waters, not only stepping outside the single market and customs union, as the UK will be even under a deal, but adding the tariffs and border checks that come with a no-deal Brexit?
Armed with a determination to end the transition period on 31 December, Boris Johnson is poised to force British businesses to sell their goods and services across the EU without any of the benefits that a deal offers, and with only a few days’ notice. Here we assess the impact on some of the worst-hit industries of securing a deal – albeit a slimmed-down one – compared with the alternative.
Businesses already struggling with the fallout from Covid-19 will be forced to deal with a mountain of new bureaucracy in the middle of a deep recession
The government did not quite achieve the Brexit breakthrough it was seeking on Friday, when there was hope that a fast-tracked trade agreement with Japan might be reached. But it seems likely that a deal, essentially replicating one signed by the EU and Japan last year, will be done by the end of the month. Some kind of morale booster for Britain’s battered and bruised businesses would certainly be welcome.
As the clock runs down to the end of the transition period on 31 December, ministers are no longer bothering to offer the false hope of a relatively frictionless trade agreement with the EU. Even a Canada-style free trade deal will mean a vast infrastructure of compliance and checks: permits for lorry drivers to enter Kent, huge customs clearance centres and tracking apps are all in the mix. The government estimates that, from 2021, there will be over 400m extra customs checks a year on goods going to and from the EU.