Paris accuses London of ‘blackmail’ over Covid-19 vaccines because UK has a ‘second dose problem’ amid global supply challenge

The French foreign minister has hit out at the UK, claiming it is “blackmailing” AstraZeneca, because, having given so many first doses of the Anglo-Swedish jab, London needs more supply to give Britons their second dose on time.

Speaking on Friday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Info radio that the UK’s vaccine strategy has created challenges for itself and the EU. “The UK took pride in having vaccinated a lot for the first dose, except they have a second dose problem,” Le Drian stated. 

The minister claimed that while France has inoculated as many people with two doses as the UK, London now has a “problem” with stocks for the administration of the second dose for Britons who have only received one jab. Both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines currently in use in the UK require two doses. 

“One cannot play a bit of blackmail like that insofar as they wanted to vaccinate all out [for] the first dose and now they find themselves a little handicapped for the second. Europe has nothing to do with it. It is the costs of this policy,” Le Drian said, adding he hopes the EU and UK can come to an agreement over vaccine supplies. “It would be ridiculous to have a war between the United Kingdom and Europe on vaccines.” 

Despite the EU’s dire position on Covid-19 vaccinations, the foreign minister said he supported the common acquisition of vaccines across the 27-nation bloc. “It is a success, these vaccines are safe, they are shared, there is production in Europe,” he noted.  

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In recent weeks, Brussels and London have engaged in a bitter war of words and threats over vaccine supplies, with the EU also registering its displeasure as AstraZeneca missed delivery targets to European nations but continued to supply the UK.

On Wednesday, the EU proposed new criteria for assessing whether vaccine exports from the bloc are “justified.” The concepts of “proportionality” and “reciprocity” were added to the EU’s guidance for member states on exporting vaccines to other countries. 

The new guidance calls on governments to assess the recipient country’s own vaccine-producing capacity, consider whether it exports to the EU in turn, and evaluate its epidemiological situation. Brussels says the EU has exported 10 million Covid jabs to the UK, but there has so far been no reciprocity.

Later on Wednesday, the EU and UK released a joint statement saying they would work to “create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all.”

The UK has vaccinated more than 55% of the adult population but only 5% have received both doses. The strategy was adopted to give protection to as many vulnerable people as possible. AstraZeneca also recommended a gap of 12 weeks between the administration of the two jabs. 

Meanwhile, the European vaccine campaign has faltered amid supply challenges and the slow approval of the vaccines. Only 10% of French people have been inoculated against Covid as of March 24. 

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