EU risks NEW vaccine crisis by refusing to order any more AstraZeneca jabs

AstraZeneca: UK Under-40s to be offered alternative says JCVI

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European Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said on Sunday the EU has not made any new orders for AstraZeneca vaccines beyond June when their contract ends, after the bloc signed a deal with Pfizer-BioNTech.

Mr Breton also said he expected the costs of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to be higher than the earlier versions.

The Commission last month launched legal action against AstraZeneca for not respecting its contract for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines and for not having a “reliable” plan to ensure timely deliveries.

He told France Inter radio: “We did not renew the order after June. We’ll see what happens.”

He did not rule out a potential renewal at a later stage.

Concerns have risen on potential side-effects of the Anglo-Swedish COVID-19 vaccine.

Europe’s medicines regulator said on Friday it was reviewing reports of a rare nerve-degenerating disorder in people who received the shots, a move that comes after it found the vaccine may have caused very rare blood clotting cases.

While the regulator has maintained that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh any risks, several European countries have limited use to older age groups or suspended use altogether.

In answer to a question at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed the move towards what he sees are more effective vaccines against new variants of COVID-19, calling it “pragmatic”.

Mr Macron said: “We are vaccinating with this vaccine (AstraZeneca) in France and in Europe. We must continue to do this because it will help us get out of the crisis.”

“But for future orders, in order to respond in particular to variants, we see that other vaccines are now more effective, so this signals a European pragmatism which I welcome.”

The European Union has signed a new contract with Pfizer-BioNTech. It will receive 1.8 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines for 2021-2023, which will cover booster shots, donations and reselling of doses.

But Mr Breton admitted the move could mean an increase in prices for second-generation vaccines.

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This, he claimed, could be justified by the extra research required and potential changes to industrial equipment.

He said: “There may be a little extra cost but I will let the competent authorities unveil it in due course.”

It comes as Europe’s medicines regulator was reviewing reports of a rare nerve-degenerating disorder in people who received AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shots, raising fresh questions about potential side-effects of the vaccine.

As part of a regular review of safety reports for the vaccine, Vaxzevria, the safety committee of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), is analysing data provided by AstraZeneca on cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS).

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The move comes after the EMA found last month that COVID-19 vaccines from both AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson may have caused very rare blood clotting cases.

While the regulator has said the benefits of AstraZeneca’s cheap and easily transportable vaccine in fighting the deadly pandemic outweigh any risks, several European countries have limited use to older age groups or suspended use altogether.

The EMA has also backed J&J’s vaccine, which is based on similar technology to AstraZeneca’s.

The regulator said GBS was identified as a possible adverse event that needed to be specifically monitored during the vaccine’s conditional approval process, adding it had requested more detailed data on the cases from AstraZeneca.

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