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Labour and Tories urge EU against ramping up rhetoric in vaccine row

BOTH Labour and the Tories warned the European Union today against cutting exports of coronavirus jabs to Britain as the country expects a shortage of vaccines.

The stakes grow higher in a continuing row over supplies of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. The EU has complained that it has not received the supplies it expected.

About 10 million doses of vaccine, mainly the Pfizer jab, have crossed the Channel to Britain, but Brussels has complained that no British-manufactured AstraZeneca doses have been sent in the other direction.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen ramped up the rhetoric at the weekend, saying the EU has the power to “forbid” exports, adding: “That is the message to AstraZeneca.”

She said the bloc would “reflect on whether exports to countries who have higher vaccination rates than us are still proportionate.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “I don’t think [the EU] has helped itself much in the last few weeks and months on the whole question of the vaccine.

“I don’t think they should go down this road of banning exports.”

Across the EU, just over 10 per cent of adults have received a first dose of the vaccine.

In Britain, the figure is over 50 per cent, but the country is already facing a squeeze on vaccine supplies in April due to problems in manufacturing processes.

The use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab in EU countries has been hit by fears over very rare blood clots, though the European Medicines Agency has concluded it is a “safe and effective” jab.

Sir Keir said the dispute with the EU needed to be resolved as quickly as possible “because we don’t want any shortage in vaccines to interrupt the rollout in this country,” and at the weekend, shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy urged Ms von der Leyen over the weekend to “cool the rhetoric.”

Today Tory Care Minister Helen Whately said Ms von der Leyen should stick to a commitment not to block pharmaceutical firms from meeting the terms of their contracts to supply vaccines.

Leaders of the 27 EU member states will discuss a ban at a virtual summit on Thursday, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged them to rule it out.

The PM admitted he expected the third wave of Covid-19 infections seen in countries such as France and Italy to “wash up on our shores as well,” but added that did not think the EU wanted to block vaccine exports from reaching Britain.

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