European Medicines Agency approves AstraZeneca jab amid row over supplies

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has authorised the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for all adults throughout the European Union, amid a deepening row over supplies.

German authorities had claimed there was “not sufficient data to assess the vaccination effectiveness from 65 years”.

But the EMA said that while there is not yet enough data from those aged over 55, protection is expected, and ruled that the jab can be used in older adults.

Emer Cooke, executive director of EMA, said: “With this third positive opinion, we have further expanded the arsenal of vaccines available to EU and EEA member states to combat the pandemic and protect their citizens.

“As in previous cases, the CHMP (Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use) has rigorously evaluated this vaccine, and the scientific basis of our work underpins our firm commitment to safeguard the health of EU citizens.”

It came amid a deepening row between the EU and AstraZeneca over vaccine supply shortages in the bloc – with Brussels announcing an export ban on some jabs.

The EU wants doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to be sent from British plants to solve its vaccine supply shortage issues, after member states were forced to pause or delay rollout.

Preventing vaccines made within the bloc from being exported could damage the UK’s access to further supplies, particularly to the Belgian-made Pfizer jab.

The “vaccine export transparency mechanism” will be used until the end of March to control vaccine shipments to non-EU countries and to ensure that any exporting company based in the EU first submits its plans to national authorities.

European Commission executive vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis told a Brussels press conference: “Today the commission has adopted an implementing regulation making the export of certain products subject to an export authorisation.

“This regulation concerns the transparency and export of Covid-19 vaccines.”

The UK was not named among countries exempted from the new measures.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca published a redacted version of its contract with the EU, which the bloc said was important for “accountability”.

The contract mentions that the firm would use “best reasonable efforts” to use European plants, including two in the UK, as production sites for vaccines destined for the EU.

Earlier on Friday the Prime Minister’s official spokesman, asked about the prospect of a block on vaccines heading to Britain, said the Government remained confident in its vaccine supply, adding: “EU policy is a matter for them.”

Cumulative Covid-19 vaccinations in the UK
Cumulative Covid-19 vaccinations in the UK

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has come under fire for the speed of inoculation provision, said her administration would “go back to publishing the actual supply figures from next week” so that there was full transparency.

Holyrood ministers were previously forced to change vaccination documents they had published online when the UK Government said setting out how many doses are expected, and when, could breach commercial confidentiality.

Justice Minister Lucy Frazer said the UK Government was being “extremely transparent” but argued that supply data could not be disclosed.

“The Government isn’t hiding anything at all. My understanding is that it is for security reasons,” she told the BBC.