EU on brink of 'vaccine war' as AZ shot shines in US trial

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With its vaccine roll-out in chaos after last week’s safety alert, Europe is reportedly on the brink of a vaccine war with the UK by threatening to block exports of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson is due to call European leaders today in a bid to avert the situation escalating.

The issue emerged after data from the delayed US trial of the vaccine showed it was safe and more effective than expected.

Results showed the shot is 79% effective at preventing symptomatic disease and provides complete protection against severe or critical disease and hospitalisation.

The interim safety analysis was based on 32,449 people, with 141 symptomatic cases flagged in the study population.

It was 80% effective in people aged over 65 and no safety concerns were identified.

But infection are rates on the increase in mainland Europe and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has revived threats to ban exports of the vaccine to the UK.

Von der Leyen is under severe pressure because of the EU’s faltering vaccination programme, which is considerably behind the one in place in the UK.

While the UK has quick to sign contracts with AstraZeneca during the early stages of clinical development of the vaccine, the EU was around three months later with its order.

It’s taken longer for AZ to get up to speed with its deliveries in Europe as a result and the programme has been further delayed by suspensions over a safety signal last week – although the European regulator has given the-all clear following a review of the data.

Von der Leyen said in an interview with German media group Funke that the commission had sent a “formal reminder” to AstraZeneca over its contractual duties.

She added: “We have the possibility to ban exports.”

Other press reports suggest that an unnamed EU official has said that any vaccines produced in a plant in Halix in the Netherlands must go to the bloc and not the UK.

Most European countries have resumed their vaccination programmes since the European Medicines Agency announced that rates of blood clots in the vaccinated population are lower than the unvaccinated population.

It’s estimated that around half of the UK’s adult population has received at least one vaccination shot, while around in Europe only around a fifth of adults have been vaccinated.

The rate of coronavirus infections has stabilised in the UK and the country is gradually lifting a nationwide lockdown over the coming months, although this may be delayed if the virus gets out of control again.