BRITAIN will help neighbouring nations with their vaccine supplies “where it can,” a UK Government minister has said, as the row between Brussels and AstraZeneca intensified.
Lucy Frazer, the Home Office Minister, said the dispute between the EU27 and the British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant was a “commercial matter”. However, she noted: “Our priority is to ensure we vaccinate people in the UK, but of course, where we can help our friends and neighbours, we would do that.”
The EU is today considering an export ban that could swiftly lead to a block of shipments of millions of doses of the Pfizer vaccine reaching Britain.
This afternoon, the European Medicines Agency is also expected to deliver its verdict on the Oxford/AstraZeneca jag.
The European Commission is also considering the export ban in a bid to solve its vaccine supply shortage issues, after member states were forced to pause or delay rollout. Political leaders in the bloc are coming under increasing pressure as the vaccine rollout across the continent is much slower than in the UK.
Brussels has already called for AstraZeneca – which aims to supply two million doses per week to the UK – to send vaccines made at its British plants across the Channel after the firm allegedly told the bloc that only a quarter of the 100 million doses it was expecting by March were likely to be delivered.
Today, AstraZeneca has published a redacted version of its contract with the EU, which the bloc said was important for “accountability”.
The contract mentions that the firm would use “best reasonable efforts” to use two UK plants as production sites for vaccines destined for the EU.
Despite the argument heating up, Kate Bingham, former Chairwoman of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, said she did not think an export ban would materialise.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “We are interdependent and I don’t think that the idea that there are going to be trade barriers is something that we should be considering.”
The supply row has spilled over into domestic politics with the Scottish Government suggesting it will go against Downing Street advice and publish vaccine supply data. Mark Drakeford, Wales’s First Minister, made clear his administration would not be publishing the information.
He said: “While the UK Government tells us it would not be sensible, we will take that advice seriously. We’re not going to publish it at the moment. As soon as it’s safe to do so and right to do so, we will put that information into public domain.”
Ms Frazer said the Conservative Government was advising against sharing the information for “security reasons”.
However, Nicola Sturgeon, who has come under fire for the speed of inoculation provision, said the Scottish Government would “go back to publishing the actual supply figures from next week,” so that there was full transparency.
Holyrood ministers were previously forced to change vaccination documents they had published online when the UK Government said setting out how many doses are expected and when, could breach commercial confidentiality.
Ms Frazer said the UK Government was being “extremely transparent” but argued that supply data could not be disclosed.
“The Government isn’t hiding anything at all. My understanding is that it is for security reasons. We have been extremely transparent, where it is appropriate to do so, to inform the public about how we are managing the pandemic.”
Pressed on what she meant by “security reasons”, the junior minister replied: “That is the information I have received.”