No 10 defends UK vaccine rollout in face of EU critics

Downing Street has insisted the Government did not “cut corners” in its rollout of the coronavirus vaccination programme following criticism from senior European figures.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the public could have full confidence that the three vaccines approved for use in the UK were “safe and effective”.

His comments came after the French Europe minister Clement Beaune said on Monday that Britain was taking “many risks” with its vaccine campaign.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen also appeared to criticise the way the programme was conducted.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen

In an interview with French newspaper Le Monde, she suggested Britain had been able to roll it out ahead of the EU because it had adopted “emergency, 24-hour marketing authorisation procedures”.

In contrast, she said a decision has been taken in Brussels that there should be no compromise on “safety and efficacy” procedures.

“The commission and the member states agreed not to compromise with the safety and efficacy requirements linked to the authorisation of a vaccine,” she said.

“Time had to be taken to analyse the data, which, even minimised, takes three to four weeks.”

In response, Downing Street said the UK regulator – the MHRA – had carried out an “extremely thorough” evaluation of the vaccines developed by Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said that in each case the head of the MHRA, Dr June Raine, had set out the rationale for approvals as well as the reasons for extending the gap between the first and second doses to 12 weeks.

“Dr June Raine has set them out on a number of occasions and was very clear that no corners were cut, no stones were left unturned that their recommendation was based on an extremely thorough evaluation of all the data from the clinical trials,” the spokesman said.

“It is on that basis that the public should be confident of the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines.”

The exchanges came amid growing frustration within the EU at the relatively slow pace of the vaccine rollout in Europe compared to the UK.

Mrs von der Leyen has faced heavy criticism while French President Emmanuel Macron sparked controversy last week when he claimed the Oxford vaccine was “quasi-ineffective” in older people.