French company to make vaccines in UK amid EU anger over short supplies
Call for UK to donate some of its doses to other countries
A French biotech company is making its Covid-19 vaccine in the UK during a row between the EU and AstraZeneca over supply shortages.
Valneva has begun large-scale manufacturing of its vaccine candidate in Scotland, even though the medication is yet to be approved by the UK’s medicines regulator.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government had secured 60 million doses of the Valneva vaccine.
The plant, set up with public funds, can produce 60 million doses by the end of the year, the same quantity ordered by the government.
The announcement comes amid concern that the UK has too many Covid-19 vaccines, prompting calls for some to be donated to other countries to prevent new variants from emerging.
The EU is at loggerheads with AstraZeneca after the UK-based pharmaceutical company rejected demands that it take Covid-19 vaccine supplies from its UK factories to increase doses going to the bloc.
The origin of the dispute is AstraZeneca’s decision to prioritise Britain over the EU after a Belgian production glitch, in what Brussels claims to be a breach of contract. The two sides held discussions on Wednesday evening and held their ground, with another meeting expected soon.
“We regret the continued lack of clarity on the delivery schedule and request a clear plan from AstraZeneca for the fast delivery of the quantity of vaccines that we reserved for the first quarter,” said EU health chief Stella Kyriakides.
British medical researcher Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, called on all sides to resolve their differences.
“The amount of virus circulating in the world will determine the chances of a new variant circulating,” he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
“None of these new variants escape from the control of the vaccination and that’s a hugely positive thing to say. But we are in something of a race with this virus, it will change, it will mutate and new variants will come.”
He said all nations needed to be equally inoculated to prevent new strains of the virus undermining the current suite of vaccines.
“The thing to do at the moment is to vaccinate as many people as we can in the world to drive down transmission and prevent these new variants from coming. That’s in our national interest and it’s in the world’s interest to do so,” Mr Farrer said.
Kim van Sparrentak, a Dutch MEP, said vaccine distribution should not become a race between countries.
“It’s important that we remember that we are all in this together and we need to have solidarity,” she said.
More than 10 per cent of the UK’s population of 66 million has been inoculated against the virus, compared with about 2 per cent of the EU’s 447 million people.
The UK has secured access to 367 million doses, enough for 5.5 per person.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK was confident it would receive its full delivery of AstraZeneca vaccines after the EU demanded a share be delivered to the continent.
“We’re very confident in our suppliers, we’re very confident in our contracts and we’re going ahead on that basis,” he said.
“The creation of vaccines is as a result of international exchange, international partnerships, and the distribution of vaccines around the world is also going to be a great multinational international effort.”
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said he expected the current shortage of coronavirus vaccines to continue well into April.
"We will still have at least 10 tough weeks with a shortage of vaccine," he said, adding that he wanted to call a summit of federal and regional leaders in Germany to discuss vaccinations.
Mr Spahn said he wanted to invite pharmaceutical companies and the manufacturers of vaccines to a meeting, to make sure that Europe gets its fair share of shots and to see where it was possible to do more to support the process.
Earlier this week, he pressed the EU to restrict exports of vaccines made on the continent, but the bloc instead opted to introduce a new "transparency mechanism" that forces manufacturers to notify authorities of vaccine shipments outside of Europe.
Asked repeatedly if the British government would prevent AstraZeneca diverting essential vaccine supplies from Britain to the EU, UK Cabinet Office Minister Gove said the crucial thing was that Britain received its orders as planned and on time.
"It is the case that the supplies which have been planned, paid for and scheduled should continue. Absolutely, there will be no interruption to that," he told the BBC.
"But again, I think that the right approach to take with our friends in Europe is to make sure that we foster cooperative dialogue to see how we can do everything we can to help."
Updated: January 28, 2021 08:12 PM