The Prime Minister has hit back at EU claims that the UK has banned all Covid-19 vaccine exports, telling MPs that Britain “opposes vaccine nationalism in all its forms”.
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, yesterday falsely claimed that the UK had an “outright ban” on exports of vaccines produced within Britain.
Boris Johnson denied the allegations this afternoon, telling MPs that the UK has not “blocked the export of a single Covid-19 vaccine”.
Speaking at today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, he said: “The whole House can be proud of the UK’s vaccination programme, with over 22.5m people now having received their first dose across the UK. We can also be proud of the support the UK has given to the international Covid response, including the £548m we have donated to Covax.”
“I therefore wish to correct the suggestion from the European Council president that the UK has blocked vaccine exports. Let me be clear: we have not blocked the export of a single Covid-19 vaccine or vaccine components,” Johnson added.
“This pandemic has put us all on the same side in the battle for global health; we oppose vaccine nationalism in all its forms.”
Johnson’s comments came as the EU faces mounting criticism over its strict controls on exports of the jab out of the continent.
Italy last week blocked the shipment of 250,000 doses of the Astrazeneca jab to Australia over concerns that its own supplies would fail to meet demand.
Health secretary Matt Hancock appeared to take aim at the EU yesterday, warning at a UK vaccine supply chain summit at Chatham House that there was a need to “oppose vaccine protectionism in all its forms”.
“Vaccine supply chains are global — and the idea of one part of the world blocking exports is a mistake,” he said.
“The pandemic has put us all on the same side in the battle for global health. And when we work together, we’ll all be the winners.”
Michel, who represents the bloc’s 27 members, said he was “shocked” at the accusations, and that the EU has “never stopped exporting”.
“Here again, the facts do not lie,” he wrote in a weekly briefing note. “The United Kingdom and the United States have imposed an outright ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components produced on their territory.
“But the European Union, the region with the largest vaccine production capacity in the world, has simply put in place a system for controlling the export of doses produced in the EU.”
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab is understood to have written to Michel to “set the record straight” and express his concern that the “false claim has been repeated at various levels within the EU and the Commission”.
“The UK government has not blocked the export of a single Covid-19 vaccine or vaccine components. Any references to a UK export ban or any restrictions on vaccines are completely false,” Raab’s letter is understood to have said.
But Michel took to Twitter last night to hit back at Raab, noting that there were “different ways of imposing bans or restrictions on vaccines/medicines”.
“Glad if the UK reaction leads to more transparency [and] increased exports, to EU and third countries,” he added.
It comes as the EU faces mounting criticism over its sluggish vaccine rollout. An average of just 7.5 per cent of EU citizens have received their first dose of a Covid vaccine, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker. The figure is as low as 6.1 per cent in France and 5.8 per cent in Italy.
In comparison, more than 23.5m people in Britain — equivalent to 35 per cent of the UK population — have received their first dose of a jab so far.
British health officials earlier this week predicted the UK vaccine rollout will hit an average of more than 500,000 doses a day from next week, following a boost in supply of Astrazeneca jabs.
The revelation sparked fury across the continent, after the EU’s slow vaccine rollout was hampered by reduced supply from both Astrazeneca and Pfizer.
Pfizer has not yet delivered around 10m doses that were due in December, leaving the bloc around a third short of agreed doses.
Meanwhile, the EU earlier this week said it will urge the US to permit the export of millions of doses of the Astrazeneca vaccine to Europe as Brussels scrambles to paper over supply shortfalls.