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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Janet Street-Porter: Boris Johnson’s vaccine strategy has enraged EU

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Boris has blundered his way through this crisis – but his decision to invest in four different vaccines, ordering over 200 million doses to protect Brits against Covid-19 was a masterstroke.

That inspired strategy won’t cancel out the depressing fact that the UK will probably see up to 150,000 people (we’ve already achieved the highest number in Europe) lose their lives from Covid. And many will have been a direct result of governmental indecision.

Boris was late on lockdowns, faffed around over tiers and continued to issue contradictory and confusing advice for months on end. Education – in the hands of incompetent Gavin Williamson – has been put on the back burner and care homes are still seeing residents die alone, deprived of human contact and family visits.

But we can’t ignore the fact that the roll out of our vaccination programme is finally protecting the people who need it most.

The decision by Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured having his temperature taken in North London earlier this month) to invest in four different vaccines was a masterstroke

The decision by Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured having his temperature taken in North London earlier this month) to invest in four different vaccines was a masterstroke

By yesterday over 7,330,000 people have received their first dose.

I gave up waiting for a letter from my GP and (using the NHS website) finally managed to book an appointment at a local chemist for next Monday – hoorah!

But the story across Europe is very different. Contrast our detailed vaccine plan and steady rollout (even with local hiccups and shortages in supply) with the bumbling bureaucracy within the EU.

France – the home of the great micro-biologist Louis Pasteur – has failed to produce a single home-grown vaccine, much to the embarrassment of President Macron.

Across Europe, there is not a single vaccination plan to rival that of the UK, and now the battle for access to supplies to really starting to get nasty.

As cases soar in Belgium and Portugal, for example, their governments have only ordered 213,000 and 263,000 doses of vaccine. How could they have misjudged the need so badly?

European Commission president Ursula Von Der Leyen is pictured in Brussels last June. Contrast our detailed vaccine plan and steady rollout (even with local hiccups and shortages in supply) with the bumbling beaucracy within the EU

European Commission president Ursula Von Der Leyen is pictured in Brussels last June. Contrast our detailed vaccine plan and steady rollout (even with local hiccups and shortages in supply) with the bumbling beaucracy within the EU

Last year, the UK decided not to to join the EU procurement scheme. There was a lot of Remainer-type tut-tutting at the time but it turns out to have been possibly the single most brilliant decision Boris has made since this crisis began.

Instead he set up the UK Vaccines Taskforce, led by former financier Kate Bingham – who then invested millions in the research and development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Vaccine and many others, hedging our bets over which would get past the post first.

While the EU dithered, the UK put it’s money on the table and was the first country to approve a vaccine last December – developed by Pfizer/BioNtech, and since then three more have been tested and approved, with a fourth – Novavax, likely to be approved imminently.

Now, the EU is reduced to squabbling over access to vaccines which the UK has already paid for.

Mr Johnson set up the UK Vaccines Taskforce, led by former financier Kate Bingham (pictured) - who then invested millions in the research and development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Vaccine and many others

Mr Johnson set up the UK Vaccines Taskforce, led by former financier Kate Bingham (pictured) – who then invested millions in the research and development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Vaccine and many others

Having taken three months longer than the UK to place an order for their member countries, they find themselves at the back of the queue for supplies.

Yesterday the EU sent officials to the AstraZeneca factory in Belgium- which has been beset by production problems and demanded that supplies should be diverted from the UK’s allocation to distribute around Europe.

The manufacturers say that their products should be handed out according to the order book and now the EU are threatening reprisals and a trade war if they don’t get their way. They are threatening to ask all companies producing vaccines to apply for permission to export outside the Eurozone.

A war of words has even seen the German media trash the AstraZeneca vaccine by claiming it is not effective for the over 65’s.

In reality what the German scientists said was that there was not yet enough evidence to support a decision one way or the other because the vaccine was primarily trialled on people aged 18- 64, in case it proved a health risk to older people.

In fact, subsequent tests show that older people who have received the jab are producing roughly the same number of antibodies as other age groups.

The last thing we need is Nicola Sturgeon (pictured yesterday) exploiting a difficult situation by threatening to publicise the number of doses Scotland receives each week

The last thing we need is Nicola Sturgeon (pictured yesterday) exploiting a difficult situation by threatening to publicise the number of doses Scotland receives each week 

German health bosses now say they will only use the AstraZeneca vaccine on people under 65- but is this just a tactic to disguise their frustration at a lack of supplies and divert attention from a major EU cockup?

But it’s a very dirty trick, leaving Public Health England and SAGE members to reassaure anxious British elderly people that our vaccines really are fit for purpose.

Will my jab on Monday be less than 100 per cent proof? There has already been controversy over the decision to delay the seond dose for 12 weeks so that more people could be vaccinated quicker, and hopefully slow down the rate of infection.

In spite of reassurances, some older people will be wondering whether they are getting fobbed off with vaccine that may not offer sufficient protection. But what’s the alternative? There isn’t one.

 

In this volatile situation, the last thing we need is Nicola Sturgeon exploiting a difficult situation by threatening to publicise the number of doses Scotland receives each week.

Furious that Boris dared to visit ‘her’ country the other day, she has been stung by criticism that only 420,000 citizens north of the Border have been lucky enough to secure a jab, when there are rumours the authorities are sitting on 1 million doses.

Exploiting a lethal disease for political gain is not a good look, and if the English trashed the Scots as much as Ms Sturgeon does the Westminster government, we would be accused of rampant racism.

The First Minister is determined that every decision she makes will reinforce her mantra that an Independent Scotland within EU would be better for everyone north of the Border than being part of Britain.

According to Boris, revealing how many doses of vaccines are being sent out within the UK each week will only result in extra pressure being put on factories in Europe.

Whatever the truth, the European Commissioners are furious they have been blindsided by the plucky Brits. The ‘harmony’ and truce declared over Brexit has all but vanished.

As for Ms Sturgeon, at a time when millions of Brits in every part of the Union are desperate to receive a dose of vaccine, playing patriot games to score points with your voters stinks.

And ordinary Scots voters might reflect that if they WERE part of the EU, rather than the UK, right now they’d be at the back of the queue for jabs along with the fuming French and the Germans.

This post was first published on DailyMail.

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