Brussels has demanded AstraZeneca allow the EU access to its UK-made vaccines (Picture: PA)
Senior Cabinet minister Michael Gove said there ‘will be no interruption’ to vaccine supplies from AstraZeneca after Brussels demanded access to jabs manufactured in its UK plants.
The clash with the bloc came after AstraZeneca told EU officials that it would only be able to send a fraction of promised supplies for the first quarter of the year due to production issues.
European health commissioner Stella Kyriakides told the firm yesterday that it is contractually obliged to send jabs produced in the UK to EU member states.
Ms Kyriakides said: ‘UK factories are part of our advanced purchase agreement and that is why they have to deliver.’
But AstraZeneca CEO, Pascal Soriot, said that it also had ‘teething issues’ with Britain’s supply but they were fixed ahead of the EU because Britain signed its contract with the firm three months earlier than the bloc.
But Ms Kyriakides argued: ‘We reject the logic of first come first served. That may work at the neighbourhood butchers but not in contracts.’
Mr Gove today said the UK’s supplies have already been planned and paid for and the government will not allow its doses to go to the EU.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘First thing, we must make sure that we continue with the effective acceleration of our vaccination programme. That relies on the supply schedule that has been agreed to be honoured. That’s the first and most important thing.
‘But secondarily I’m sure we all want to do everything possible to make sure that as many people in countries which our are friends and neighbours are vaccinated and I think we best achieve that through dialogue and co-operation and friendship.’
Pressed on whether the government will allow vaccines to go to the EU, he said: ‘No, the critical thing is we must make sure that the schedule that has been agreed and on which our vaccination programme has been based and planned goes ahead.
‘It is the case that the supplies that have been planned, paid for and scheduled should continue, absolutely. There will be no interruption to that.’
The EU, which is set to see the AstraZeneca jab approved on Friday, has been criticised for its slow rollout of vaccines following supply delays with Pfizer as well as AstraZeneca.
Boris Johnson insisted the government is ‘very confident in our supplies and our contracts’, while senior industry sources told The Times that the UK has more than enough doses to meet its ambitious vaccination targets.
Royal Navy personnel administer the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at a coronavirus vaccination centre set up at Bath Racecourse (Picture: PA)
In fact, the country’s supply is so vast, that the British government could eventually donate some to other countries, claimed the sources.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng echoed Mr Johnson’s comments and said the government is not under real pressure to export jabs to the EU.
Speaking on ITV’s Peston, Mr Kwarteng said: ‘[The vaccine] was devised here in the UK, and I don’t think that there’s any real pressure on us to start thinking about exporting the vaccine.
‘That’s obviously something for AstraZeneca but our number one priority… is to make sure that our most vulnerable cohorts are vaccinated in a very timely and efficient way.’
However, Mr Kwarteng could not rule out if people who had already received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine might receive Oxford’s one as a second dose.
‘I think, as I say, it’s an evolving picture,’ he said.
‘I don’t think, there have been pressures in supply, but I don’t think this has impeded the full rollout of the vaccinations.
‘We are confident that we will be able to vaccinate the most vulnerable people, as I’ve said.’
The prime minister last night said a plan to ‘gradually reopen out economy and society’ will depend on the effectiveness of the vaccine and how many people have had it.
Mr Johnson addressed the nation after confirming that England’s national lockdown will be extended until at least March 8.
He also announced that schools will not reopen to all pupils until after the February half-term break, while travellers returning to the UK from high-risk countries will have to quarantine in government-approved accommodation.
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