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Britain has taken “a lot of risks” in its Covid vaccination programme that would be intolerable to the French public, France’s Europe minister, Clément Beaune, has said in defence of the EU’s record on vaccines.
With 14% of the UK adult population having received a first jab, compared with 3% of people across the 27 EU member states, there is growing discontent in the bloc.
The European commission has been locked in a public fight with AstraZeneca over a significant shortfall in expected doses in the first quarter of this year, raising questions about how momentum will be gained in the coming weeks.
Asked whether the UK had been able to roll out its vaccination programme more rapidly due to leaving the bloc last year, Beaune said it “has nothing to do with Brexit, but I understand that you make the comparison”.
He said: “The British are in an extremely difficult health situation. They are taking many risks in this vaccination campaign. And I can understand it, but they are taking many risks.”
In his critique of the British rollout, Beaune cited the UK’s decision to allow a 42-day gap between the initial and booster jabs, as approved by the World Health Organization, and its dependence on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
He said: “They have spaced – and the scientists have told us not to – they have massively spaced the two injections apart to up to 42 days. They mainly depend on one vaccine, AstraZeneca. The European authority will tell us tomorrow, but Germany has already told us about doubts regarding the effectiveness in people above 65.
“The UK has used the vaccine in this age group. So I understand that if they are in a difficult health situation, they take additional risks, but I do not think our citizens would accept if we took all those risks despite the recommendations of our scientists.”
The European Medicines Agency on Friday approved AstraZeneca’s vaccine for use in the EU on people over 18, without an upper age limit.
The vaccine’s developers and regulators in the UK have strongly defended its efficacy in all groups. But German and Italian regulators have recommended that it should be used only on people aged 64 and under, owing to a lack of data on efficacy in older age groups.
Regarding delaying second doses, Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, has said this was a “public health decision” based on the best advice and balance of risks. But the move has proved controversial: while there is evidence from trials that a 12-week gap does not reduce the efficacy of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, Pfizer has stressed it has no data on whether protection after the first dose of its vaccine is sustained after three weeks.
France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, conceded that the EU needed to speed up its vaccine deployment as he hosted his Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vučić, in Paris on Monday.
“We are in a race against time against the virus,” he said. “We, as Europeans, need to be more efficient on this matter. I know this is also the intention of Chancellor [Angela] Merkel and President [Ursula] Von der Leyen. We will continue in the coming weeks and months to speed things up.”
The European commission is in discussions with AstraZeneca to try to secure more doses of its vaccine than the company has so far pledged in the first quarter of the year. On Sunday the commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said AstraZeneca had raised its target of supplies to the EU from 31m to 40m doses before the end of March.
On Monday a commission spokesperson said the offer by AstraZeneca was an improvement but “it is definitely not the amount which we expect to receive until the end of the first quarter, so of course discussions will continue”.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: French minister criticises UK’s ‘risky’ Covid vaccine strategy | World news