Boris Johnson has said he has “total confidence” in the UK’s supply of vaccines after the European Union threatened to block exports of jabs.
The British Prime Minister told a Downing Street press briefing that the delivery of vaccines was a “multinational effort” and the UK would continue to work with European partners.
Meanwhile, AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot predicted the UK will have vaccinated “maybe 28 or 30 million people” by March and will hit the target to administer jabs to the top four priority groups by mid-February.
It comes as the European Commission last night threatened to impose controls on vaccines following criticism of a slow rollout in the EU.
European health commissioner Stella Kyriakides accused AstraZeneca, which works with Oxford University on its vaccine, of failing to give a valid explanation for failing to deliver doses to the bloc.
The Pfizer vaccine is manufactured in Europe but the bulk of the AstraZeneca jab meant for the UK is manufactured on British soil.
Mr Johnson told the briefing: “All I would say is obviously we expect and hope that our EU friends will honour all contracts and we will continue … we fully expect that will happen … and we continue to work with friends and partners in the EU, and indeed around the world, because the delivery of the vaccine has been a multinational effort, and the delivery of the vaccine is multinational as well, because the virus knows no borders.”
Asked if he would urge the EU against controls on exports of vaccines, he added: “The creation of these vaccines has been a wonderful example of multinational cooperation and one of the lessons the world has to learn from the pandemic is to cooperate so I don’t want to see restrictions on the supply of PPE (personal protective equipment), drugs or vaccines or their ingredients across borders.”
AstraZeneca boss Mr Soriot gave an optimistic prediction for the UK’s rollout as he sought to explain the problems being faced by the EU.
“By March, the UK will have vaccinated maybe 28 or 30 million people,” he said in an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
“The Prime Minister has a goal to vaccinate 15 million people by mid-February, and they’re already at 6.5 million. So they will get there”.
Mr Soriot said there had been “teething issues” in the UK supply chain as well but that the deal with Britain was signed three months ahead of the EU’s.
“So with the UK we have had an extra three months to fix all the glitches we experienced,” he said.
He rejected the suggestion the firm was selling to the highest bidder “because we make no profit everywhere” under the agreement signed with Oxford University.
Earlier, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi also said he was confident that the UK will continue to receive its deliveries of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab.
He insisted the UK’s vaccination programme was still on track, including offering all adults a first dose by the autumn and 15 million of the most vulnerable a jab by February 15.
Asked whether the EU could prevent Pfizer vials leaving its borders, Mr Zahawi told Sky News: “No, I’m confident that the Pfizer vaccine will be delivered.
“Pfizer have made sure that they have always delivered for us, they will continue to do so.
“They have made a very important announcement on the equitable supply of the whole world, including the European Union, and I’m sure they will deliver for the European Union, the United Kingdom and for the rest of the world.”
On Monday night, Ms Kyriakides said conversations with AstraZeneca had resulted in “dissatisfaction” and 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.
Mr Zahawi admitted that supplies of vaccines “are tight”, telling BBC Breakfast: “It’s lumpy and bumpy, it gets better and stabilises and improves going forward.”
But he declined to spell out that he had received guarantees of the number of doses the UK would receive from Pfizer.