EU vaccine war boils over as VDL threatens to block 19m more doses of AstraZeneca jab

AstraZeneca: Suspension of vaccine will 'cost lives' says expert

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The bloc’s vaccine rollout has been widely criticised for moving at a glacial pace whereas the UK hit a new record of vaccinating more than 700,000 jabs in just 24 hours. This comes after several EU member states were plunged into new lockdown restrictions this month.

Brussels has claimed AstraZeneca has delivered a third of the 90 million vaccine doses promised to the bloc but has met its contract to supply the UK in full.

And now, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has issued a new threat of “banning a planned export” of the vaccine to the UK.

Ms von der Leyen said: “That’s the message to AstraZeneca: you fulfil your contract with Europe first before you start supplying to other countries.

“We have received nothing from the British, while we are supplying them with vaccines.”

France’s European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune backed the Commission’s threat to ban the vaccine – which was developed with Oxford University.

Mr Beaune said: “We need a principle of reciprocity: supply others if they supply us in accordance with signed contracts.”

Ms von der Leyen’s plan will be discussed at a European Council summit on Thursday but has already received backing from Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Italy and Denmark have also backed the decision to block the vaccine exports.

Earlier this month, Rome blocked the vaccine supply to Australia following the bitter row of vaccine supplies.

One EU diplomat said: “Italy has sent a crystal clear message to AstraZeneca: Contracts are to be honoured.

“AstraZeneca’s vaccine delivery to the EU will fall short by more than 60 million doses in the first quarter of 2021 alone putting at risk the lives of 30 million EU citizens.

“Being in this situation, not making up for it, not even offering excuses to the people they have led down and then asking for an export authorisation is a very brazen move.

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“Italy rightly stopped it.”

Other member states, such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Sweden and Ireland, are concerned about a vaccine trade war.

A senior British Government official hit back at the plans by the Commission and said the UK is only “getting what we helped to develop”.

They said: “The reality is our contract with AstraZeneca is rock-solid and better than the EU’s.

“And we’re only getting what we helped to develop and paid for.”

Several EU states halted use of the AstraZeneca vaccine – which was developed with Oxford University – amid fears the jab increased the risk of blood clots.

Despite these concerns, the French Health Authority said inoculation of the vaccine “can resume immediately” and can be administered to people over 55.

The World Health Organisation’s European director, Hans Kluge, urged EU nations to continue to use the vaccine.

He said: “As of now, we do not know whether some or all of the conditions have been caused by the vaccine or by other coincidental factors.

“At this point in time, however, the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine far outweigh its risks and its use should continue, to save lives.”

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