Oxford vaccine: Fergus Walsh on results and Macron’s comments
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The French leader said on Thursday he would gladly accept being inoculated with the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine if it were offered when his turn comes. The embarrassing U-turn came after Mr Macron claimed the Oxford jab was “quasi-ineffective” for over-65s.
The French leader is under pressure to accelerate a vaccine rollout in France that is badly lagging behind Britain’s.
Speaking to reporters after the first day of the EU Council Summit on Thursday, the French President said that AstraZeneca had failed to meet its delivery targets and that EU leaders were putting pressure on the Anglo-Swedish company.
But Mr Macron has often been accused at home of failing to speed up his vaccination strategy as he only managed to hand out 550,000 first doses per week so far, regardless of the stock the country has available.
Mr Macron told reporters: “In view of the latest scientific studies, the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been proven.
“My turn will come, but I’ve got time. If that’s the vaccine that’s offered to me, I will take it, of course.”
But at France’s vaccination speed rate, it would take until 2022 to get through the 33 million French people who are older than the French leader.
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Reuters reported on Tuesday that AstraZeneca expects to deliver less than half the COVID-19 vaccines it was contracted to supply to the European Union in the second quarter.
Mr Macron said the EU’s export control mechanism for vaccines was satisfactory and helped transparency but should not be used to ban exports, which would be counterproductive.
The leaders of the 27 EU member nations agreed in a video conference to keep “tight restrictions” on public life and free movement as the bloc races against the emergence of new variants that are holding back an economic rebound.
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “We have to prepare for a situation where we have to continuously vaccinate for a longer period of time, maybe over years, due to new coronavirus variants, akin to the situation we know from the flu.”
Italy’s new prime minister, former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, called for a much tougher stance from the EU towards pharmaceutical companies producing the vaccines after a stuttering start to deliveries of jabs.
The executive European Commission told the leaders that 51.5 million doses of vaccines had so far been delivered across the EU and 29.17 million administered, with about 5 percent of citizens having had their first dose.
The Commission and EU countries have come under fire for missteps in their joint inoculation programme and a slow rollout of shots that has lagged badly behind Israel, Britain and the United States.
Summit chairman Charles Michel said the bloc wanted “more predictability and transparency” from pharmaceutical companies that failed to deliver contracted vaccine volumes, putting at risk the EU’s target of inoculating 70 percent of its adult population by the end of the summer.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen voiced confidence that goal could be achieved. She said the firms exporting most COVID-19 vaccines from the EU were honouring supply contracts with Europe, but Brussels was keeping “a very close eye” on AstraZeneca because of its reduced deliveries.
Faced with a pandemic that has killed more than 900,000 people in Europe and thrust the continent into its deepest recession, EU leaders agreed to work on vaccine certificates, which southern countries hope will unlock tourism this summer.
Mrs Merkel said technical work on so-called vaccine ‘passports’ should be completed by the summer but some countries – including France and Belgium – are concerned that easing travel for people who have been inoculated would discriminate against others.
Mrs Merkel said she did not currently expect to impose tighter restrictions on the French Moselle region bordering Germany as the bloc treads a fine line between restrictions to stop the spread of infections and keeping borders open to ensure the smooth flow of goods and services across the single market.
Although infection rates are heading down in about 20 EU member states, there are concerns about fresh spikes as the coronavirus variant first detected in Britain spreads rapidly.
After winter lockdowns, warmer spring weather has drawn large groups of young people – last in the queue for vaccines – out into parks in European cities in recent days, many defiantly without masks.
But Mrs von der Leyen warned that the British variant was present in 26 of the EU’s 27 countries, the South African variant in 14 and the Brazilian in seven.
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