U.K. Vaccine Plan On Track After EU Export Spat, Truss Says

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The U.K.’s supply of vaccines is secure and the country will stick to its rollout timetable, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said.

Her comments came after the European Union’s executive arm announced it would require vaccine makers to obtain authorization before sending shots manufactured in the bloc to some other countries. The spat raised concerns over the provision of supplies of the Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE shot, manufactured in Belgium, to the U.K.

“We are absolutely confident we can continue to deliver our program,” Truss said in a Sky News interview. “We have received assurances from the EU that those contracts won’t be disrupted. And now I think we need to move forward, working together.”

A record number of almost 600,000 people in the U.K. received their first dose of the vaccine on Saturday, taking the total figure to 8,977,329, government data show.

The origin of the dispute over vaccine exports is AstraZeneca Plc’s decision to prioritize Britain over the EU following a Belgian production glitch, in what Brussels claims was a breach of contract. After a flurry of activity, AstraZeneca agreed to deliver 9 million additional vaccine doses to the European Union in the first quarter of this year, bringing the total to 40 million for the quarter, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Sunday on Twitter.

‘Lessons to Be Learned’

A threat by the EU to unilaterally trigger emergency clauses in its post-Brexit accord with the U.K. as part of the dispute was “unacceptable” and “very foolish,” former Prime Minister Tony Blair told Sky’s Sophy Ridge earlier on Sunday. He said the move, which officials have since backtracked on, risked endangering Ireland’s 1998 Good Friday Agreement peace deal.

Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin told the BBC that people had been “blindsided” by the threat and that there were “a lot of lessons to be learned.” Even so, he condemned how AstraZeneca had handled its EU vaccine contract so far.

“The point was transparency in terms of the relationship between AstraZeneca and the EU Commission,” he said. “There’s a very fair point there which cannot be brushed aside either. The problem is the commission took the wrong mechanism in revoking Article 16 of the protocol to deal with it.”

President von der Leyen on Sunday held a video call with chief executives of pharmaceutical companies to discuss how vaccines could be more rapidly deployed, manufactured and approved in the future.

“The pandemic highlighted that manufacturing capacities are a limiting factor. It is essential to address these challenges,” the commission said in a statement after the call. It added that “the emergence of variants of concern raises the imminent threat of reduced efficacy of recently approved vaccines.”

Despite the U.K.’s progress with the vaccine roll out, British authorities are so far struggling to contain the virus. A further 587 deaths were reported Sunday and it was announced that Captain Sir Tom Moore, the 100-year-old veteran who has raised almost 40 million pounds ($55 million) for the nation’s health service, was admitted to hospital after testing positive for Covid-19.

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