With over 1 in 10 adults in the UK receiving their first dose of the vaccine, Boris Johnson’s pledge to inoculate the top four priority groups in the country by mid- February appears increasingly promising. However, whilst the British government celebrates this perceived success, a mountain of friction has developed between the UK and the EU, with rising threats from Brussels to divert any jabs headed to Britain.
In an encouraging claim from Pascal Soriot, CEO of the pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, it is becoming increasingly likely that around 30 million people in the UK will be vaccinated by the end of March. This would amount to almost half of the entire UK population, placing the UK’s vaccination programme as one of the most successful in the world. Perhaps this would allow the easing of COVID restrictions sooner than anticipated.
Despite inoculation success, concerns have been rising over the vaccine’s effectiveness against the newly identified strains, primarily found in the UK, Brazil, and South Africa. However, Moderna, the US manufacturers of a vaccine set to be rolled out at springtime in the UK, have reported evidence in the lab that their jab remains strong against all identified COVID-19 strains. This comes as Pfizer reported that they are already in development of ‘booster’ jabs that will be more effective against any of the new persistent strains. Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla also promises that a new booster will continue to be in development as soon as any new strain proves to weaken the effectiveness of their current vaccination.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, threatened to make firms declare what vaccines are being exported to the UK. An attempt to ensure that jabs are being exported fairly according to contractual agreements. This comes alongside reports of a mass AstraZeneca vaccine shortage within the EU, which has resulted in intense criticism, particularly from the German media. In response to the EU’s handling of vaccine procurement, German newspaper, Die Zeit, labelled the disaster ‘an advert for Brexit’. According to AstraZeneca CEO Soriot, the pharmaceutical company signed a contract to supply the Oxford vaccine in the UK three months before it signed a similar deal with the EU. He claims that the agreement with the EU to supply tens of millions of doses differed from their deal with the UK as it remained only a ‘best effort’ deal as opposed to a pledge. This was due to the fact that the EU wanted to be supplied with the Oxford vaccine at the same as the UK, despite the three-month contractual delay making this almost impossible. However, it is worth pointing out that the UK’s upper hand in procurement of the vaccine is in actuality unsurprising, given the vaccine’s link with Oxford and its development within the country. Soriot claims that Oxford had already been working with the British government prior to the merge with AstraZeneca, and so it was inevitable that upon completion of manufacturing, the UK would maintain the bulk of its supply.
With an already tense atmosphere only weeks after Britain’s official departure from the European Union, the question remains whether the UK’s mass vaccination drive will continue to ignite this long-standing friction with Brussels.