The EU is set to beg the United States for millions of Covid vaccines as the bloc desperately scrambles to plug the shortfall in its faltering programme.
In another humiliating episode, the European Commission reportedly intends to ask President Joe Biden’s new administration if it will allow the export of millions of doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
The extraordinary move comes just days after Italy controversially blocked the export of 250,000 jabs destined for Australia, which stoked global fears over vaccine hoarding.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex speaks during a press conference on the French government’s current strategy for the ongoing Covid-19
US regulators have yet to authorise the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine but the White House has previously said that any doses made on home soil will be used to meet domestic demand first (Pictured, Joe Biden)
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said the EU was ‘desperately scrabbling around to grab hold of anything they can get their hands on’.
‘This vaccine debacle exposes what the EU is all about,’ he said last night. ‘It’s an insular, protectionist organisation that actually believes it is the most important place on earth.
‘They simply cannot accept that they have screwed up. First of all, they blame the British. Then they accuse Australia. Now they are going cap in hand to America and essentially saying, “You’ve got spare vaccines, give them to us.” It’s absolutely pathetic.’
The EU also wants to strike a deal with Washington to safeguard the free flow of shipments of crucial vaccine ingredients, according to the Financial Times.
US regulators have yet to authorise the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine but the White House has previously said that any doses made on home soil will be used to meet domestic demand first, under an order signed by former President Donald Trump.
The EU’s demands for the Oxford jab come after France and Germany were forced into embarrassing U-turns, having initially questioned its effectiveness for the over-65s.
French President Emmanuel Macron had sparked fury when he suggested the vaccine was only ‘quasi-effective’ in older people.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex admitted last week that the jab was ‘very efficient’ and worked as well as other EU-approved vaccines.
German health minister Jens Spahn also admitted that the vaccine works ‘very well’ in the over-65s.
The UK has administered 21.7 million first doses and over a million second doses – equivalent to more than a third of the population.
By comparison, across all EU states, just 8.4 per cent of citizens have had an inoculation.
The bloc initially negotiated on behalf of all 27 member states in a bid to drive down prices. But it proved cumbersome and left them trailing far behind countries such as the UK and Israel who were more nimble in their approach to procuring vaccines.
The UK has administered 21.7 million first doses and over a million second doses – equivalent to more than a third of the population
In January, AstraZeneca slashed its first-quarter supplies to the EU from 90 million to 40 million doses. The company later told the EU it was also likely to miss its target for the second quarter by 50 per cent. The fallout prompted Brussels to institute an ‘export transparency mechanism’, which forces vaccine manufacturers to ask for permission from national governments before they can ship supplies outside of the EU.
Despite Eurocrats initially insisting the mechanism would not be used to block vaccine shipments, last Thursday Italy halted the export of 250,000 Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs destined for Australia. French health minister Olivier Veran suggested on Friday that France ‘could do the same’.
But the move sparked a diplomatic crisis, with officials in Canberra branding the EU ‘desperate’ and accusing it of trying to ‘tear up the rule book’. Boris Johnson’s spokesman added: ‘We would expect the EU to continue to stand by its commitments.’