Boris Johnson has promised UK Covid vaccines will go to EU, says Brussels chief

Under-pressure Ursula von der Leyen announces more supplies of AZ and Pfizer jabs

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 01 February 2021 14:36
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Ursula von der Leyen says Boris Johnson has promised vaccines from UK plants will be sent to EU
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Boris Johnson has promised that coronavirus vaccines from UK factories will be delivered to Europe, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has said.

As the Commission came under attack for the slow provision of jabs in the EU, Ms von der Leyen last night told German TV that AstraZeneca had agreed to step up deliveries of vaccine in February and March by 9m doses to 40m.

And she today said that Pfizer will provide the EU with 75m additional doses of the BioNTech vaccine in the second quarter of 2021, bringing the total to as many as 600m over the course of the year.

Ms von der Leyen insisted that the EU was working with the UK in the fight against Covid-19 and rejected the idea the pair were in a race to protect their populations.

“The only race we are in is against the virus and against time,” she told ZDF TV.

“I had a very good conversation with Boris Johnson. There is a lot we can do to work together in this pandemic.

“I was glad that he guaranteed that the two factories which produce AstraZeneca will of course deliver to Europe, just as European vaccine doses, for example from BioNTech, are being delivered to Britain.

“That is the spirit with which we must approach this pandemic. Our opponent is the virus and the pharmaceutical industry is part of the solution to the problem.”

Downing Street did not dispute Ms von der Leyen’s account of the conversation, although there was no mention of UK supplies going to Europe in the summary released by No 10 on Friday evening. 

Asked repeatedly whether he could confirm the Commission president’s account at a daily Westminster media briefing, the PM’s spokesman simply referred back to Friday’s press release..

Ms von der Leyen gave no timetable or projected volume for the delivery of vaccine doses from the AZ plants in Oxford and Keele to the EU.

The UK government has not ruled out allowing supplies from the factories to be rerouted to Europe before the planned completion of the vaccination of Britain’s adult population in September.

It is thought that ministers want to complete the protection of the top nine priority groups in the UK before considering sending doses overseas. These groups are due to receive their jabs by the end of the spring and include all over-50s, health and care staff and those with underlying health conditions.

Mr Johnson’s spokesman said today: “It is too early to talk about surplus doses. Our priority remains to vaccinate UK adults. Our priority remains to get to the top four priority groups by the middle of February and then to those remaining on the phase one list by the end of the spring.”

International trade secretary Liz Truss said on Sunday that the UK wanted to “work with friends and neighbours” but said it was too early to talk of the UK giving excess doses of the coronavirus vaccine to other countries.

Her colleague Michael Gove had said the UK wanted to “help” the EU, which faces a crisis after AZ announced a 60 per cent cut from 80m to 31m in planned supply of vaccine doses to the EU in the first quarter of 2021 - now increased to 40m.

Ms Truss told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “What we know about the vaccination programme is this is a global problem and we need a global solution.

“Of course, we first need to make sure that our population is vaccinated. We have a target to get the most vulnerable vaccinated by late February. It’s a bit too early to say how we would deploy vaccines, but we certainly want to work with friends and neighbours, we want to work with developing countries.”

In a tweet on Monday morning, Ms von der Leyen said: "BioNTech/Pfizer will deliver 75 million of additional doses in the second quarter of the year - and up to 600 millions in total in 2021.”

AZ’s announcement that it was slashing delivery forecasts to the EU due to production problems at its plant in Belgium put intense pressure on the Commission and triggered a furious row between London and Brussels last week.

After announcing export ban measures on Friday, the Commission was forced to backtrack on plans to stop vaccine deliveries to Northern Ireland after protests from London and Dublin, with Mr Johnson raising concerns in a phone call with Ms von der Leyen about the proposed use of emergency measures from the Brexit divorce deal to introduce controls at the border with the Republic.

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