Vaccine minister tells LBC 'vaccine nationalism' is the wrong way to go in EU supply row

26 January 2021, 08:26 | Updated: 26 January 2021, 08:42

By Maddie Goodfellow

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has told LBC that vaccine nationalism is 'the wrong way to go' after the EU warned it will tighten exports of Covid vaccines produced in the bloc.

Speaking with Nick Ferrari on LBC, the minister was questioned over the news that the Pfizer Covid vaccine supply could be in jeopardy after the EU talking about "blocking exports".

After facing criticism of a slow rollout in the EU, the European Commission threatened to impose controls on vaccines that would affect the Belgium-manufactured Pfizer vaccine.

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Mr Zahawi told Nick: "We have great confidence in Pfizer and their delivery programme and I pay tribute to their chief executive and the whole business.

"From day one they have talked about 'equitable supply' and they will supply Europe and the UK. They are in the process of reconfiguring their European operations to deliver two billion doses instead of 1.6 billion doses.

"So I have every confidence that we will get our deliveries as scheduled. And of course, with the Oxford AstraZeneca, the bulk of that is being manufactured in the UK so I am also confident that we will get our deliveries on that."

On Tuesday, European health commissioner Stella Kyriakides accused pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which worked with Oxford University on the vaccine's development, of failing to give a valid explanation for failing to deliver doses to the bloc.

Warning the EU "will take any action required to protect its citizens and rights", she said in a broadcast address that an "export transparency mechanism" will be installed "as soon as possible".

"In the future, all companies producing vaccines against Covid-19 in the EU will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries," she said.

Nick quesioned the minister on this, asking: "The EU health commissioner is saying that in the future they will want prior notifications of vaccines to be going to third countries. Surely that is of concern to you?"

Mr Zahawi responded: "I don't want to speculate, we work very closely with our EU partners and we speak to EU health ministers all the time. I presented to ambassadors this week our strategy and we were sharing experiences.

"I think the right thing to do is to make sure we get our deliveries, both countries and global, highly reputable companies, so I am confident we will get our supply and I am confident we will hit our target for mid-February of offering the vaccine to the top four most vulnerable cohorts."

Nadhim Zahawi spoke with Nick Ferrari on LBC
Nadhim Zahawi spoke with Nick Ferrari on LBC. Picture: LBC

Mr Zahawi continued: "I think the right thing to do is for us and the EU to focus on making sure we both get our volumes.

"Vaccine nationalism is the wrong way to go. We've got to make sure we protect our own people and then put our effort in to help the rest of the world."

Questioned on whether it is therefore wrong to Boris Johnson to boast about the speed of the UK rollout, Mr Zahawi said: "The Prime Minister is right, comparisons are important.

"That is a positive action, you have to be able to compare yourselves."

Earlier on Monday, Ms Kyriakides criticised AstraZeneca's decision to slow supplies of its vaccine as "unacceptable".

The pharmaceutical company announced on Friday it could not meet agreed supply targets, just weeks after Pfizer also announced supply delays.

An AstraZeneca spokesman said the company was doing everything it could to bring its vaccine to millions of Europeans "as soon as possible".