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AstraZeneca’s jab has had a bumpy rollout in the EU – but how did it play out? | World News

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The EU’s vaccination drive has been a bumpy ride – but its rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab has been especially so.

In November, the European Commission celebrated its plan for a common approach, heralding the creation of a “health union” along with its deal to purchase at least 300 million doses from the British-Swedish drugmaker.

This deal came with the option of purchasing another 100 million doses for its 450 million citizens.

Four months later, however, and the bloc’s programme has been beset with shortages and delays, and has prompted a very public and very bitter row with the pharmaceutical company.

It then almost resulted in a nuclear option – triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, before peaking again on Thursday when the commission blocked a shipment of vaccines bound for Australia.

So – how did we get here?

22 January, shortages announced

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved the AstraZeneca jab for use on 29 January – but the issues had already begun.

Exactly a week earlier, the company informed Brussels there would be a 60% shortfall due to a production glitch in its European supply chain.

It left the EU expecting deliveries of 31 million doses by the end of March instead of the agreed 80 million.

Coupled with a temporary shortfall of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the drive was off to a bad start.

25 January, efficacy questioned in German report

Handelsblatt, a German newspaper, published a report suggesting the efficacy of the AstraZeneca jab could be as low as 8% in over-65s.

The claim was rebutted by the German health ministry as well as AstraZeneca and Oxford University, which said there had been “no basis” for the assertion.

28 January, Germany advises against use in over-65s

On the eve of the EMA’s approval of the jab, health authorities in Germany said the vaccine should not be administered to people over 65, saying there was a lack of data on this age group.

France, Greece, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Poland and Austria eventually followed suit with the same restriction.

Italy initially limited the jab to under 55s but at the end of February raised that to adults up to 65 years old.

Belgium and Spain have limited it to under 55s.

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COVID vaccine rollout in the EU has slowed down due to skepticism over UK vaccine production

28 January, EU orders inspection at AstraZeneca site

Quarrels ensued in the days after the shortfall was announced as EU officials urged AstraZeneca to limit the expected cuts.

The commission also threatened to impose strict export controls to ensure the bloc received its fair share of the vaccine, and later pointed to a clause in its contract which said doses would be delivered from two UK-based factories.

However, Pascal Soriot, the French chief executive of AstraZeneca, said no timetable for deliveries had been agreed, adding that the contract included a best-effort clause.

He said the UK’s contract had also been signed three months before Brussels, and it stipulated that vaccines made in the UK should be supplied to the UK first.

Around one in seven people now have antibodies, with numbers building because of the vaccines
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Brussels hinted at there being a breach of contract in relation to AstraZeneca

In response, the EU hinted that Mr Soriot’s revealing of this information – said to be confidential – could amount to a breach of contract.

But to top this busy couple of days, the EU on 28 January ordered officials to inspect AstraZeneca’s facility in Seneffe, Belgium, to confirm there was an issue with supply.

29 January, AstraZeneca jab approved; EU publishes its contract

The EMA approved AstraZeneca for use on 29 January for all adults over 18 years old – despite conflicting recommendations from Germany.

French President Emmanuel Macron then dampened confidence further, saying the jab was “quasi-ineffective”.

It was also the day Brussels released a heavily-redacted version of its contract; although, this appeared to create more questions than it answered.

French President Emmanuel Macron gestures as he presents the acceleration of the national cybersecurity strategy during a video conference at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris, France February 18, 2021. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS
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Emmanuel Macron said in January he thought the jab was ‘quasi-ineffective’

29 January, EU moves to trigger NI protocol

The procurement row soon reached its first peak as the commission made moves to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to prevent vaccines entering the UK.

This would have seen checks made at the border of the Republic and Northern Ireland.

London, Belfast and Dublin widely condemned the move – and it ultimately resulted in the commission making a swift U-turn.

February-March, low uptake reported

Bad publicity in earlier weeks appeared to have a knock-on effect for AstraZeneca in Germany as slow uptakes of the jab were reported.

Meanwhile, the head of Germany’s Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) Thomas Mertens said “the whole thing has somehow gone badly,” and insisted the vaccine was “very good”.

He told broadcaster ZDF: “We never criticised the vaccine, we only said that the data was not good or not sufficient for over 65s.”

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Northern Ireland Protocol became ‘collateral damage’

4 March, U-turns on recommendations for over-65s

Germany later reversed its recommendation on restricting jabs to under-65s only, while France partially U-turned by allowed the AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged between 65 and 74 with pre-existing health conditions.

It comes after fresh data published by Public Health England (PHE) based on the UK’s vaccine rollout showed protection against symptomatic COVID in those over 70, four weeks after the first jab, ranged between 60-73% and 57-61% for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

4 March, EU blocks shipment to Australia

As AstraZeneca failed to meet its contractual commitments, Italy and the European Commission blocked a request to export 250,000 doses from its Anagni plant near Rome.

The move came under a new export control system that passed into law on 30 January and was the first time it had been used by a member state.

In a statement, the Italian foreign ministry cited reasons such as Australia being considered “not vulnerable” due to a low number of COVID cases, along with the shortage of vaccines in Europe.

It is understood the doses will now be redistributed within the EU, where about 8% of the population has been vaccinated, compared with more than 30% in the UK.

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Police hunting gunman who shot two, one dead, outside Paris hospital | World News

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Two people have been shot outside a hospital in Paris, one of them fatally, according to reports.

The incident happened in front of the Henry Dunant hospital in the 16th arrondissement of the French capital, and the attacker fled on a motorcycle, a police source told Reuters news agency.

One of those shot has died, the source said, while the other is being treated at the hospital.

Police officers leave the scene. Pic: AP
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Dozens of officers were called to the scene. Pic: AP

A police spokesman said the gunman, who witnesses say wore a hood, fired several shots before fleeing.

Local television said the person killed was a man while the other injured person was a woman, who worked as a security guard at the hospital, which is also operating as a COVID vaccination centre.

Witness Noura Berrahmouni said: “It was so fast we suppose it was a score settling … If not, we think there would be more victims.”

Police say there is, as yet, no known motive for the shooting.

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Two people shot, one dead, outside hospital in Paris – reports | World News

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Two people have been shot outside a hospital in Paris, one of them fatally, according to reports.

The incident happened in front of the Henry Dunant hospital in the 16th arrondissement of the French capital, and the attacker fled on a motorcycle, a police source told Reuters news agency.

One of those shot has died, the source said, while the other is being treated at the hospital.

A police spokesman said the gunman fired several shots before fleeing.

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COVID-19: Top Chinese official admits efficacy of China’s vaccines is low | World News

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China’s top disease control official has admitted that the efficacy of the country’s coronavirus vaccines is low – and mixing them is among the strategies being considered to boost their effectiveness.

Gao Fu, the director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said efficacy rates needed improving, in the rare admission.

Giving people doses of different vaccines is one way to improve vaccines that “don’t have very high rates of protection”, he said.

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Gao Fu at a press conference earlier this year
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Gao Fu at a press conference earlier this year

“Inoculation using vaccines of different technical lines is being considered,” he added, during a conference in the Chinese city of Chengdu.

China has been at the forefront of COVID-19 vaccine development.

It started vaccinating some citizens as far back as last summer under emergency use approval.

Five vaccines have been developed in China, four of which require two shots and a fifth which is only a single dose.

It includes one from privately owned company Sinovac, two from the state-owned Sinopharm, one developed as a partnership between Mr Gao’s team and Anhui Zhifei Longcom, and a single shot vaccine from a company called CanSino.

The effectiveness of the vaccines range from as low as around 50% to 79%, based on what the companies have said.

Mr Gao later released a statement through the state-owned Global Times saying that he had been misunderstood and had in fact been talking about global vaccines in general.

No externally developed vaccines are authorised for use in the country.

Chile has received millions of doses of vaccines from China
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Chile has received millions of doses of vaccines from China

A study released on Sunday on the Sinovac vaccine, when given shorter than three weeks apart, showed that the jab had a 49.1% efficacy in Phase III trials in Brazil, below the World Health Organisation’s threshold.

However, increasing the gap between jabs over three weeks boosted the efficacy to 62.3%.

A real-world study at the University of Chile suggested last week the vaccine was 54% effective in reducing infection.

Chile has used the Chinese vaccine on a large scale, vaccinating millions of people, although it is still in the grip of a spike of cases – seeing as many as 8,000 daily diagnoses in recent weeks.

The Chinese developers – including Sinopharm – have not published any peer reviewed data for Phase III medical trials.

The jab developed by Mr Gao’s team was given emergency approval a month ago, despite data about its efficacy not being publicly disclosed.

Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna have all reported they are around 90% effective in late stage trials.

Both of the coronavirus vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna use mRNA to send genetic instructions to the body’s cells that result in them producing antibodies for the coronavirus without the virus actually being introduced to their body.

Earlier in the pandemic, Mr Gao had questioned the safety of mRNA jabs, but at the weekend he said: “Everyone should consider the benefits mRNA vaccines can bring for humanity.”

China has exported a large number of vaccines around the world, including to Europe, South America and Africa.

According to Mr Gao, as of 2 April, 34 million people in China had received two doses of a Chinese vaccine, and 65 million had received one.

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