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UK News Ursula von der Leyen throws deputy under bus over EU vaccine shambles

13:20  02 february  2021
13:20  02 february  2021 Source:   dailymail.co.uk

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Ursula von der Leyen sitting at a table in front of a laptop: MailOnline logo © Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo

Ursula von der Leyen has thrown her deputy leader under the bus over the EU vaccine shambles, that saw Brussels threaten Britain with a vaccine export ban.

On Monday, the European Commission president pinned the fiasco - that would have seen a hard Irish 'vaccine border' implemented were it not for a later U-turn- on Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commissioner for Trade.

'This regulation falls under the responsibility of Mr Dombrovskis,' Eric Mamer, the European Commission's chief spokesman, said on Monday of the former prime minister of Latvia.

'In my country we have a saying, "Only the Pope is infallible,"' Mr Mamer said. 'Mistakes can happen along the way the important thing is that you recognise them early on.'

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Ursula von der Leyen sitting at a table in front of a laptop: European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, pictured in Brussels on Sunday, has come under pressure over the EU's slow jab rollout and her attempt to control vaccine exports © Provided by Daily Mail European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, pictured in Brussels on Sunday, has come under pressure over the EU's slow jab rollout and her attempt to control vaccine exports

But the comments were met with scathing criticism from Alexander Stubb, the former prime minister of Finland, who campaigned to be appointed European Commission president himself.

'Number one rule of any leader: if your organisation screws up; never, ever blame your team publicly,' he said in response.

Mrs Von der Leyen's attempt to pin the blame on her deputy comes amid rising anger at her 'go it alone' tactics during last weeks stand-off with Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, that developed a vaccine with Oxford University.

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In a speech in Stuttgart on Sunday, her predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker said he was 'very much opposed' to her export restriction measures.

Brussels imposed export controls last week to supervise vaccines leaving the bloc for other countries, after AstraZeneca said it was cutting supplies to the EU in the first quarter of 2021 - adding to the EU's vaccine rollout woes.

'It all went too slow, it all should have been done more transparently, even though that would have been difficult,' Juncker said.

Valdis Dombrovskis wearing a suit and tie: The European Commission president pinned the fiasco - that saw Brussels threaten to implement a hard Irish border - on Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commissioner for Trade (pictured in Brussels on January 29) © Provided by Daily Mail The European Commission president pinned the fiasco - that saw Brussels threaten to implement a hard Irish border - on Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commissioner for Trade (pictured in Brussels on January 29)

The European Commission president was forced into a U-turn on Friday after she announced that Brussels would trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol in order to precent AstraZeneca vaccines being smuggled into Britain.

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After years of Brexit negotiations between Britain and the EU to avoid a hard border on the island, the move would have created a 'vaccine border'. It was announced without notifying either Ireland or Britain.

The legislation was met with a fierce backlash, and was amended after the Irish prime minister called Mrs Von der Leyen.

Mr Mamer said the regulation to create an 'export transparency mechanism', which included the Article 16 measure, was passed provisionally and hurriedly by the College of Commissioners on Friday.

'We believe that we are on the right track since the beginning of this pandemic in ensuring there is as cohesive and as effective a European response as possible,' he told The Daily Telegraph.

But Mrs Von der Leyen attempt to pass the blame on to her deputy has led to suggestions from EU diplomats that she has gone rogue, and to Germany MPs in Berlin who plan to summon her in for questioning.

The move by Germany MPs was led by legislators from her own party, Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).

Thus far, Mrs Von der Leyen has refused calls for a public debate on the fiasco in the European Parliament, and she will instead hold closed-door meetings with MEPs on Tuesday with parties who approved her appointment.

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In an interview on German television, she denied that the EU was losing a vaccine race against Britain, insisting that the only race was against the virus and time.

She also gave an assurance that neither the EU or Britain would block each other's vaccine supplies.

The EU and many of its 27 members have faced criticism over their sluggish rollout, with fewer than 10million people getting a dose so far across the entire bloc.

Von der Leyen's European Commission has invested 2.7 billion euros ($3.3 billion) to secure 2.3 billion doses from companies making potential vaccines, mostly using European factories.


Video: Germany expects limited EU approval for AstraZeneca vaccine (France 24)

Three vaccines are so far authorised for use across the EU's 27 member countries: one by German outfit BioNTech with US giant Pfizer; one by US company Moderna; and most recently one by Anglo-Swedish group AstraZeneca.

All three firms are undershooting on delivery schedules for the January-March first-quarter period.

While excessive bureaucracy in countries such as France and Germany has been one reason for the slow start, the EU has also struggled to get hold of enough supplies.

Pfizer and BioNTech have slowed down production to make manufacturing changes, while AstraZeneca said it was cutting supplies to the EU in the first quarter of 2021.

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The UK committed £1.67billion on Covid vaccines before it was known whether they would be effective - more than the £1.57billion the EU put forward for its 448million people, with Britain spending £25.00 per capita compared to £3.51 for Brussels. The US government spent £7.9billion in total, according to the figures from science analytics firm Airfinity, an outlay of £24.02 for each of its 330million people © Provided by Daily Mail The UK committed £1.67billion on Covid vaccines before it was known whether they would be effective - more than the £1.57billion the EU put forward for its 448million people, with Britain spending £25.00 per capita compared to £3.51 for Brussels. The US government spent £7.9billion in total, according to the figures from science analytics firm Airfinity, an outlay of £24.02 for each of its 330million people

EU Vaccine approval: State of play

Approved for the EU

BioNTech/Pfizer (German/US, mRNA vaccine, 95-percent efficacy according the European Medicines Agency): 600 million doses. Its first-quarter deliveries to EU member states were cut by as much as half, but the company vows they will be back to normal by mid-February.

Moderna: (US, mRNA vaccine, 94-percent efficacy): 160 million doses.

AstraZeneca (Anglo-Swedish, adenovirus, 60-percent efficacy): 400 million doses. It was meant to have delivered more than 100 million doses in the first quarter, but on December 22 said that would be cut to 31 million. Von der Leyen announced on Sunday that would now be boosted to 40 million.

Pending approval

Johnson & Johnson (US, adenovirus, efficacy unknown): 400 million doses. The Commission says 100 million should be delivered by June if this single-shot vaccine is approved.

CureVac (Germany/US, mRNA, efficacy unknown): 405 million doses.

Sanofi/GSK (France/UK, recombinant spike protein, efficacy unknown): 300 million doses. After a disappointing Phase 2 trial, the companies are trying a different antigen formulation and are now aiming for production late this year.

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The Commission is also in exploratory talks with Novavax (US, recombinant spike protein, efficacy unknown) for up to 200 million doses and with Valneva (French, inactivated virus vaccine, efficacy unknown) for up to 60 million doses.

That prompted outrage from Brussels, which imposed export controls last week to supervise vaccines leaving the bloc for other countries.

Pharmaceutical companies have since made public pledges to make up for the shortfalls with additional doses later on - though none has pledged to speed up the initial delivery, meaning the EU's Covid pain will drag on for some time.

BioNTech and Pfizer have promised to send up to 75 million extra doses to the bloc in the spring thanks to progress at key manufacturing sites.

Meanwhile Mrs von der Leyen, who signed the vaccine contracts on behalf of the bloc, said Sunday that AstraZeneca would deliver 40 million doses in total in the first quarter - 30 per cent more previously promised - but shipments will not start until the second week of February.

And chemicals giant Bayer announced that from 2022 it would produce a coronavirus vaccine that fellow German pharmaceuticals company CureVac is developing.

CureVac CEO Franz-Werner Haas said his company would also produce several hundred million doses of its own vaccine by the end of 2021.

CureVac's mRNA vaccine has yet to receive the green light from regulators, but German health minister Jens Spahn said it was 'on its way to approval in the coming weeks'.

French pharma group Sanofi agreed last week to help produce 125 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

A European source said on Monday that Germany was putting 'tremendous' pressure on the Commission to improve the vaccine rollout, adding that von der Leyen's position had been 'severely weakened'.

While Brussels boasts of having a portfolio of 2.3billion doses, it has paid dearly for failing to sign its agreement with AstraZeneca until August last year.

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Meanwhile, the EU's contract with Pfizer was not signed until November 2020, two days after the company had announced its successful trial results.

The Pfizer rollout did not begin until the very end of December, and even a month later the daily vaccination rates in countries such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain are well below those in Britain and the US.

Brussels did sign a deal with Moderna days before Britain, but again this was after the jab had already passed clinical trials.

And the EU was again shown to be lagging when the Novavax trial results were published last week showing 89.3 per cent efficacy.

While Britain has 60million doses ordered, the EU has only conducted 'exploratory talks' with the manufacturer, which were completed in December.

Even then, the 200million doses envisaged in an 'exploratory contract' are a smaller stockpile when adjusted for population size than Britain has ordered.

The EU also has other agreements in place with vaccines from Sanofi-GSK and CureVac, which have yet to conclude clinical trials.

Each EU member state is responsible for its own rollout. Most are giving priority to the elderly and frontline health workers.

Almost all the vaccines require two jabs for a full vaccination. (Johnson & Johnson is aiming for a single-shot regimen, subject to trials and EMA approval.)

Collectively, the European Union as of Saturday had provided 2.4 doses per 100 people, according to official sources collated by the website Our World in Data.

graphical user interface: EU country's vaccination programmes have been lagging behind other nations as the bloc continues to struggle with its rollout following the fiasco © Provided by Daily Mail EU country's vaccination programmes have been lagging behind other nations as the bloc continues to struggle with its rollout following the fiasco

Top performers are Malta (6.08 doses per 100 people), Denmark (4.47), Slovenia (3.65) and Romania (3.50).

The bigger countries are trailing: Germany has given 2.8 doses per 100 people, France 2.34, Italy 3.16 and Spain 3.1.

The countries leading the world in giving jabs are Israel (54.7 per 100 people, with most of those over 70 already having been vaccinated with their two injections), the United Arab Emirates (33.7) and Britain (13.9).

Britain, which left the EU last year, is focused on giving the maximum number of people one injection and stretching out the time before they become completely vaccinated through their second injection.

France and other EU countries, in contrast, say they are maintaining stocks to give the second jab as recommended, even if that means a slowdown in their first jab programme.

Some EU countries, particularly in the poorer east of the bloc, are sensitive to the cost of vaccinating their populations. The logistical challenge of the mRNA-type vaccines that require sub-Arctic temperatures is also a factor.

While the price of each vaccine has been kept secret in the European Commission's contracts, a Belgian minister's tweet in December - deleted afterwards - gave a breakdown.

The Moderna vaccine was listed as most expensive, with Brussels paying 14.70 euros a dose. The BioNTech/Pfizer one 12 euros. The AstraZeneca vaccine came in at 1.78 euros a dose.

Read more

‘Mandatory, unsafe and not halal’ – Covid-19 vaccine myths debunked .
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