Boris Johnson reveals he will receive AstraZeneca vaccine
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Britain was shocked earlier this week when it was suddenly announced virtually no new first doses of coronavirus vaccines would be administered in April due to a lack of supply. A letter to local NHS leaders told vaccine centres not to offer new appointments next month and to focus on giving jabs to over-50s and the clinically vulnerable.
Matt Hancock admitted yesterday problems in India was responsible for the temporary setback, with a shipment of five million AstraZeneca jabs from the country delayed.
A batch of 1.7 million doses already delivered to the UK has also had to be returned for re-testing.
Last night the Prime Minister publicly downplayed suggestions the Indian government was behind the supply problems, saying it has “not stopped any exports”.
But Adar Poonawalla, the head of the Serum Institute of India (SII) manufacturing the jabs, has pointed the finger firmly at the New Delhi administration.
He said: “There was never a commitment to supplying doses to the UK in any stipulated time.
“We just said we will offer our help.
“India has allowed five million doses to go to the UK.
“The balance will be decided to be given to the UK at an appropriate time by the Indian government, while balancing India and all its needs.”
He added: “It is solely dependent on India and it has nothing to do with the SII.
“It is to do with the Indian government allowing more doses to the UK.”
Secret diplomatic talks are understood to have been now started between the UK and India to try to secure a quicker supply of vaccines.
A Whitehall source told the Daily Mail a “constructive dialogue underway to work through issues” with counterparts in New Delhi.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We’re in constant contact with other governments around the world.”
The EU is likely to be left infuriated if Mr Johnson is successful in excluding the UK from the India export ban.
Brussels has faced a series of setbacks with its vaccination programme, including AstraZeneca informing the bloc it would be unable to provide as many doses as promised on time.
Some of those jabs were set to come from India but were blocked due to New Delhi.
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Last week Sweden’s vaccine co-ordinator Richard Bergstrom said: “We have found 75 million doses for the second quarter that were supposed to come from the UK, the US and to some extent India.
“Now we have just been told that the company won’t be able to get those doses as there are export bans from the US and India, and contractual obstacles to sending doses from the UK.”
The shortages led to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyden making the extraordinary threat of the EU implementing its own vaccine export ban unless it received its “fair share”.
Ministers in the UK have criticised the comments made by Brussels and on Wednesday night Mr Johnson held a private call with his European counterpart to relay his concerns of a threat to ban shipments of vaccines from the EU to the UK.
Britain is reliant on a factory in Belgium for its supply of Pfizer jabs.
While yesterday ministers insisted the shortfall of doses expected in April would not impact the roadmap out of lockdown, a further cut in supply due to a ban on exports from the EU would risk derailing to path back to normality.
The continued successful rollout of the immunisation programme is one of four tests that must be met before each next step of the roadmap can go ahead.
Mr Johnson has insisted he will have no problem in slowing down his roadmap if necessary and will be guided by “data not dates”.
Seeking to reassure the public there was currently no reason for a delay to the roadmap, the Prime Minister told a televised coronavirus briefing last night: “We will still offer a first dose to every adult by the end of July – so there is no change to the next steps of the roadmap.”
He added: “We’ve now vaccinated over 25 million across our entire United Kingdom – more than the entire population of many countries and our progress along the road to freedom continues unchecked.
“We remain on track to reclaim the things we love, to see our families and friends again, to return to our local pubs, our gyms and sports facilities, and of course our shops.”
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