Johnson & Johnson’s blunt ultimatum to EU before rollout delay: ‘We’re under stress!’

Brexit: UK residents react to EU amid vaccine row

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On Tuesday, Johnson & Johnson announced it would delay the rollout of its COVID-19 vaccine in Europe after US health agencies urged for a pause of the jab’s use on Americans while they investigate a number of incidents of rare blood clots. In a joint statement, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said they were reviewing six reported US cases of “rare and severe” blood clots in individuals who had received the J&J vaccine. The individuals were all women aged between 18 and 48, who developed symptoms six to 13 days after getting the jab.

The head of the division at the FDA that oversees vaccines, Peter Marks, claimed scientists believe the J&J vaccine is causing similar severe reactions to those experienced by a small number of people who have received AstraZeneca.

He said: “The probable cause that we believe may be involved here is a similar mechanism that may be going on with the other adenoviral vector vaccine.

“That is an immune response that occurs very, very rarely after some people receive the vaccine. That immune response leads to activation of these platelets and these extremely rare blood clots.”

The delay to the rollout in Europe is another huge setback for the EU, which had hoped the J&J vaccine would enable member states to accelerate their vaccination campaigns after months of squeezed supply and logistical problems.

J&J was due to supply 55 million of the 360 million doses that the EU is expecting to receive in the second quarter.

However, the bloc had already faced difficulties with the drugmaker.

At the beginning of March, an EU official revealed J&J had told them it was facing supply issues that could have put in jeopardy the delivery of the initial 55 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine.

J&J had reportedly told the EU that issues with the supply of vaccine ingredients and equipment meant it was “under stress” to meet the goal of delivering 55 million doses by the end of June.

The official added the company had said it was not impossible to meet the goal, but that it showed caution.

So far, more than 46 percent of people in Britain have had at least one dose.

The EU, which accounts for 27 nations, is still stuck at 13 percent.

This can arguably be attributed to Brussels’ slow decision-making and clunky contracting.

In an interview with AFP in November, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel shed light on the negotiations between the two sides.

The Frenchman revealed how dealing with 27 member countries was slowing everything down.

By contrast, he claimed the American company had struck a deal with Canadian authorities two weeks after starting talks.

Mr Bancel said: “It is clear that with a delay this is not going to limit the total amount but it is going to slow down delivery.”

According to POLITICO, when Moderna reported efficacy rates higher than 90 percent on November 16, the UK managed to wrap a deal with the American company that same day.

The deal with the EU was close to completion, but the European Commission failed to get everyone on board.

The bloc and Moderna only signed a contract nine days later, on November 25.

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According to the Head of Oxford-based think-tank Euro Intelligence Wolfgang Munchau, the bloc would never have been able to deliver a successful vaccination rollout on par with the one of the UK and Israel.

He explained in a recent report: “The EU could not have done what Israel and the UK did.

“Israel handed all health data to the manufacturers.

“That’s not possible in the data-protection-obsessed EU.

“The UK put a venture capitalist in charge of the operation.”

He added: “Inexperience plays a role. But the biggest problem in the procurement delays is the constant need in the EU to coordinate between all members.

“Policy coordination works in situations that are purely symmetric – of which there are not many.

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“Vaccination is surely not in that category.”

With a population of just nine million, Israel is not a large country but its contributions to health innovation, in particular digital health, are outsized.

In 2019, Israel’s cabinet approved a one billion shekel (£276million) investment in digital health, focusing primarily on commercialising and otherwise deriving value from the country’s medical databases.

Israel’s healthcare system has been paperless for about 20 years.

And while its hospitals are not all on the same Electronic Health Records (EHR) system, those systems do all talk to each other.

The ability to reach patients at the drop of a hat, have immediate access to their medical history, and seamless capabilities for appointment bookings have been fundamental for Israel, which is one of the countries at the top of the COVID-19 vaccine league table.

Britain’s successful vaccination rollout is another story.

As Mr Munchau mentioned, the UK did put a venture capitalist, Kate Bingham, in charge of the operation.

Her taskforce helped the Government to secure vital agreements to have access to six different vaccines across four different formats, amounting to 357 million doses.

She invested a huge £1billion upfront, without any guarantee that any vaccine would work.

It was a risk that has paid off handsomely, and has allowed the UK to race ahead and vaccinate its population against the virus.

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