Vaccine row: David Davis says EU has been ‘very emotional’
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At the end of January, French President Emmanuel Macron claimed the AstraZeneca jabs appeared to be “quasi-ineffective” on people older than 65 – just hours after EMA approved it in the whole of Europe. He also condemned Britain’s decision to extend the time between people receiving their first and second dose, from 28 days to 12 weeks. The 43-year-old insisted the “goal is not to have the biggest number of first injections”, and claimed “we are lying to people when we tell them they’ve been vaccinated by getting one injection of a vaccine that consists of two injections”.
In support of his colleagues, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen put forward similar claims, noting the UK had resorted to a rushed approach to vaccines.
Scientists at the University of Oxford vindicated the UK’s decision to maximise the number of people receiving their first doses, though.
Tests showed the vaccine has a 76 percent efficacy against symptomatic infection for three months after a single dose, with greater effectiveness when a second is given later.
Greg Clark, the chairman of the Commons science committee, said: “It seems that President Macron has made an error. It is nonsense.”
As a result of the EU leaders’ comments, thousands of people started deliberately skipping appointments for the Oxford jab in Europe.
Leaders have now been urging people to take AstraZeneca, with the lack of uptake threatening to further derail Europe’s vaccination rollout, which still lags way behind the UK.
Brussels does not seem to have learnt from its mistakes, though.
Christa Wirthumer-Hoche, the chairwoman of EMA, referred to Sputnik, the Russian Covid vaccine, as a game of Russian roulette.
According to the head of Oxford-based think-tank Euro Intelligence Wolfgang Munchau, the comparison with one of the deadliest games of chance is not only wrong, but potentially counter-productive.
He wrote: “The EMA’s job is to approve a medicine or not, but not to speculate.
“We will at one point be able to measure the cost of the various EU smear campaigns against specific vaccines in terms of human lives – when we are able to get a clearer picture of the impact of vaccinations on hospitalisation and mortality – broken down by brands.
“Once we understand the impact more clearly, one can calculate how many lives would have been saved if the EU had pursued a strategy similar to those of other advanced countries.”
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The Sputnik vaccine, Mr Munchau noted, is structurally similar to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, but uses different host viruses that embed the actual vaccine.
First large-scale test results were positive, he continued.
If countries are faced with acute vaccine shortages, they will naturally consider alternatives.
He concluded: “Even if Sputnik is not as effective as claimed, the purchase of the vaccine would not constitute a gamble comparable to Russian roulette.
“We note with interest that Sputnik is now being produced in Italy, in a deal that surprised Mario Draghi and the Italian government, but apparently not the Lega.
“The Russians partnered with a specialist Swiss pharmaceutical company with production plants in northern Italy. The capacity is low in comparison with European plants.
“There is no way that the EU will ever rely primarily on Sputnik.
“Yesterday it became known that Johnson & Johnson warned the EU of supply problems that could complicate plans to deliver the originally promised 55 million doses.”
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Austria and Denmark have become the latest countries to break away from the EU’s vaccines strategy, raising fears that the bloc’s unity in the face of the coronavirus pandemic is crumbling.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Austria would work with Israel and Denmark on second generation coronavirus vaccines and “no longer rely on the EU in the future”.
It is widely seen as a rebuke to the European Commission’s procurement scheme for vaccines.
Mr Kurz told Bild, Germany’s biggest selling newspaper, that the EMA had been “too slow” in approving the jabs.
Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen added she had already bid for supplies of Israel’s leftover vaccines in another sign of the disintegrating confidence in Brussels to deliver the jabs.
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