Tuesday 23 March 2021 3:45 pm

Going Dutch: Downing Street refuses to rule out sharing Astrazeneca vaccines with EU

Downing Street has refused to rule out sharing British supplies of the Astrazeneca vaccine made in the Netherlands with the EU to avert an exports ban from the bloc.

Asked whether the UK would be willing to offer some of the Dutch-made jabs to Europe, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said Boris Johnson has “set out his position to his European counterparts and to the EU”.

“We obviously produce a large number of vaccines ourselves here in the UK and Astrazeneca are also being produced in other countries such as India,” they added.

The PM is understood to be willing to compromise over the distribution of supplies manufactured at the Halix facility in the Netherlands in order to prevent the EU implementing a blanket ban on vaccine exports.

Several EU leaders, including European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen, have threatened to block vaccines leaving the continent as they face mounting scrutiny over the EU’s sluggish immunisation programme.

More than half of the adult population in Britain has received their first dose of a Covid jab, compared to just 12 per cent of adults in the EU.

The UK has ordered 100m doses of the Astrazeneca vaccine in total, almost all of which will come from UK-based facilities.

The Serum Institute of India is set to produce 10m doses of the vaccine for the UK — half of which have been delayed. It is thought the number of vaccines made at the Netherlands site are not significant.

Meanwhile, the EU has ordered 400m doses of the Astrazeneca vaccine for its 27 member states, with the bulk of supplies due to arrive from the US and a site in Belgium. 

However, Astrazeneca in January said it would have to slash the number of doses it could deliver to the EU as a result of production delays in Belgium and the Netherlands. 

Various EU member states have blamed Astrazeneca’s failure to meet agreed dose deliveries for the slow progress with the vaccine rollout.

Clement Beaune, France’s Europe Minister, said this morning that Brussels was ready to block millions of doses from the Netherlands if Astrazeneca did not divert some of its UK-made vaccines to Europe.

“Astrazeneca says: I am experiencing delays, we say: mobilise your plants for us and if you don’t, we will block exports to the UK,” he told French radio. 

Brussels is demanding “reciprocity” from Britain, arguing that while the EU has sent 10m vaccines to the UK over the past six weeks, Britain has exported no jabs to Europe.

The European Commission will publish revisions to its vaccine export rules tomorrow.  The export authorisation scheme was introduced in January amidst a separate dispute over low supplies of the Astrazeneca jab within the EU.

The scheme, which was originally intended to run until March, allows customs agencies to block Covid-19 vaccine exports out of the bloc unless they receive emergency authorisation from national governments within the EU. 

The Prime Minister has insisted that the UK will have enough vaccines to meet the government’s target of offering an initial injection to all adults by 31 July.

It comes after the NHS warned last week that a separate manufacturing issue at a vaccine plant in India would result in “significant disruption” to the UK’s vaccine supplies over the next few weeks.

Appointment centres have been told to make sure that no more appointments are uploaded to the national or local booking systems for April, with strict orders not to take any bookings for under-50s over the coming weeks.