U.K. health authorities warned on Wednesday that the country would face a severe shortage of COVID-19 vaccines in April, as the European Commission threatened to trigger emergency controls on the production, distribution and exports of the shots.
- The U.K.’s National Health Service announced that there would be “a significant reduction in weekly supply available from manufacturers” beginning at the end of March, for about a month, meaning that the vaccination campaign for the under-50s will be delayed.
Government officials said a shortage of the AstraZeneca
vaccine was mostly to blame, but expressed confidence that the U.K. would still meet its target of vaccinating all adults by the end of July.
- European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen threatened on Wednesday to use emergency powers to block exports of vaccines to the U.K., noting that the European Union has exported 10 million doses of vaccines to the U.K., but received none.
- “We will reflect on whether exports to countries with higher vaccination rates than us are still proportionate,” she said.
- The European Medicines Agency is due to issue a report on Thursday on the safety of the vaccine that drug company AstraZeneca developed with the University of Oxford, and which has been suspended in most of the EU on fears of undesirable side effects.
The outlook: The U.K. delay shows that AstraZeneca’s production problems aren’t limited to the EU. But they threaten to escalate the London-Brussels dispute to a new, serious level of nastiness.
The EU finds itself in the situation of complaining about the lack of AstraZeneca vaccines even as most of its member states have suspended its use — until, that is, the EMA’s report expected later on Thursday.
And the U.K. criticizes Brussels’ threat of an export ban, while benefiting from imports of the same vaccine from the rest of Europe as it de facto prevents exports of the shots manufactured in Britain.
Meanwhile, the gap in vaccination remains as large as it has been in the last three months. Nearly 40% of the U.K. population have received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccines available. That proportion is less than 12% in Germany, France or Italy.