BRUSSELS: On Friday, the European Union backtracked on the possibility of restricting the sale of coronavirus shots to Northern Ireland as the WHO cautioned against ‘vaccine imperialism’ in its growing row with Britain.
With Covid-19 casualties approaching 2.2 million, diseases are raging across the world, and as rich nations battle for insufficient stocks of vaccines, there are concerns that the less fortunate will not have access for a long time.
AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish company, has said it can produce just a fraction of its vaccine doses pledged to the EU and Britain due to manufacturing issues, but both sides are insisting that their promises be fulfilled.
By overriding part of the Brexit agreement with Britain that permitted the free movement of goods across the Irish border, the EU threatened to ban vaccine exports to Northern Ireland, but backed down after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson raised “grave concerns.”
In a statement late on Friday, the European Commission will “ensure that the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol is unaffected,” said the EU Commissioner.
That followed the publication by the EU of a censored version of its contract with AstraZeneca and the declaration of a process that could cause it to refuse to export vaccines manufactured on European soil.
On Friday, after Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, the AstraZeneca vaccine became the third to get EU clearance, but it came under the shadow of a bitter diplomatic wall.
I expect the corporation (AstraZeneca) to deliver the 400 million doses as decided,” Chief Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission tweeted as she announced the authorisation.” The shortage problem is an immense blow to the still stumbling European rollout of vaccines.
The EU-Britain scramble has exposed the effect of shortages on aggressive mass vaccine campaigns, including on wealthier nations, and there is increasing concern that the developing world is hogging doses, leaving developing nations behind.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, president of the World Health Organisation, cautioned against “vaccine nationalism,” warning that there was a “real danger that the very instruments that could help end the pandemic, vaccines, might exacerbate global inequality.”
Sections of Africa and Asia have only just begun to secure and deploy vaccines. When more alarming evidence surfaces on new strains of the coronavirus, which is estimated to have affected more than 101 million persons globally, the global search for shots arises.
It is suspected that variants first observed in Britain, Brazil and South Africa are more infectious.
Scientists are worried that certain vaccines, a possible stumbling block in the global attempt to defeat Covid-19 by mass inoculation, could be eluded by the South African version. On Thursday and Friday, new data revealed an average efficiency of 89 and 66 percent for Novavax and Johnson & Johnson shoots.
But although Novavax’s jab against the British version was extremely successful, both were less effective against the South African strain. Their vaccinations are successful against the varieties, Pfizer and Moderna have said.