Yesterday marked one year since the first coronavirus lockdown was announced in the UK. Although few of us could have anticipated the first anniversary of the restrictions taking place in such similar conditions to those of one year ago, the circumstances are certainly different now.
For one, the Covid-19 vaccine rollout in Britain is well underway. More than 30 million doses have been administered in total, while the UK government continues to insist its pledge to offer all adults a jab by the end of July will be met.
This target notwithstanding, last week we learnt that the UK is expected to experience a reduction in the supply of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in April, partly due to a delay in a delivery from India of five million doses.
But India is hardly at the centre of the scientific and political storm surrounding the AstraZeneca jab.
In an escalation of the vaccine row between the UK and the European Union, where some member states have raced to lift suspensions on the Oxford vaccine after a coordinated halt on its use last week, the European Commission is threatening to limit vaccine exports to Britain with a revision of its export authorisation scheme.
The move, which is due to be announced today and discussed in a virtual summit of EU leaders tomorrow, is expected to widen the criteria for export requests to take into consideration the level of vaccination coverage in a country and its record in facilitating exports to the bloc.
These two criteria aren’t good news for the UK, where a European blockade could pose an immediate challenge to the delivery of second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
However, Boris Johnson appears determined to calm tensions rather than engage in further threat escalation, not least because of the huge public pressure to continue the successful vaccine rollout at home. The prime minister has been in touch with EU leaders ahead of their summit, and opened the door to negotiating shares of the AstraZeneca supply on the basis of “reciprocity”.
To Johnson’s satisfaction, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has expressed a similar sentiment, as she urged the EU on Tuesday “to be very careful now about imposing general export bans”, given the “huge range of international interdependencies” in vaccine supply chains.
Meanwhile, in the US, the AstraZeneca vaccine received yet another blow after the country’s chief medical adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, said yesterday that, although the jab was probably “very good”, the efficacy data released by the British-Swedish pharmaceutical had been “somewhat outdated and might in fact be misleading a bit”.
In response to Fauci’s statement, AstraZeneca said the published results were based on a “pre-specified interim analysis” of data up to 17 February, and that it intended to issue results of the primary analysis within 48 hours.
Worryingly, amid the chaos of the rollout suspensions, export ban tensions, and outdated assessments, the threat of increased vaccine hesitancy should be a matter of growing concern; one to which vaccine nationalism will undoubtedly fail to be the answer.