Europe’s vaccine roll-out is ‘unacceptably slow and prolonging the pandemic’, WHO warns


Europe’s vaccine roll-out has been condemned for being ‘unacceptably slow’ and blamed for ‘prolonging the pandemic’ by the World Health Organisation.

‘Vaccines present our best way out of this pandemic … However, the rollout of these vaccines is unacceptably slow’ and is ‘prolonging the pandemic’, WHO director for Europe Hans Kluge said today.

He added that Europe’s outbreak was ‘more worrying than we have seen in several months.’

The EU is facing soaring infections – France yesterday imposed its third national lockdown and there are similar calls in Germany – as countries face a lack of vaccine doses which are being centrally allocated by Brussels.

The Bloc failed to order enough doses or grant vaccines swift approval and is now facing a crisis of confidence in the AstraZeneca jab – which leaders like Emmanuel Macron helped fuel during the EU’s bitter row with Britain over supplies. 

Europe’s medicines regulator yesterday slapped down fresh doubts raised in Germany after hospitals in Berlin and Munich banned the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine over sporadic cases of deadly blood clots. 

But as Germany joined other states like France in banning use of AstraZeneca, EU officials today continued their rancorous threats to block exports of the vaccine to Britain until they get the doses they believe they are owed.

Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, said ‘zero’ AstraZeneca jabs made on the Continent would be shipped across the Channel until the company fulfilled its commitments to Europe. 

He shot down hopes that Brussels and London could split doses made at the firm’s two major factories in Belgium and the Netherlands, saying ‘there is nothing to negotiate’ between the two parties.  

FRANCE: Medics tend to a patient in Amiens, northern France, on Tuesday amid soaring infections that have seen Macron forced to impose another national lockdown. Health Minister Olivier Veran said today: ‘We could reach a peak of the epidemic in seven to 10 days if all goes according to plan … Then we need two extra weeks to reach a peak in intensive care units (ICUs) that could occur at the end of April’

GERMANY: Amid soaring infections, Berliners flocked to the city's parks on Wednesday evening to enjoy sunny weather

GERMANY: Amid soaring infections, Berliners flocked to the city’s parks on Wednesday evening to enjoy sunny weather

ITALY: Policeman escort a sunbather off the beach in Livorno, Tuscany, after the province was plunged into tough 'red zone' lockdown restrictions amid a third wave of Covid-19

ITALY: Policeman escort a sunbather off the beach in Livorno, Tuscany, after the province was plunged into tough ‘red zone’ lockdown restrictions amid a third wave of Covid-19

This chart shows how Britain is still racing ahead of the EU in vaccinating its population against Covid-19, more than three months after the continent started its jab programme

This chart shows how Britain is still racing ahead of the EU in vaccinating its population against Covid-19, more than three months after the continent started its jab programme  

EU chiefs are furious that AstraZeneca has missed its delivery targets by tens of millions of doses, accusing the Anglo-Swedish firm of breaching its contract.  

It comes after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Wednesday said once again there was ‘no evidence’ to support banning the jab for people under 60, amid bans imposed by countries including France, Germany, Norway and Spain. 

Analysis by the regulator found just 62 out of 9.1 million people vaccinated with the British-made jab worldwide had developed the rare brain clot, known as cerebral sinus venous thrombosis (CSVT) — a rate of about five per million. Forty-four of them were in Europe. 

French president Macron, who earlier this year described the AstraZeneca jab as only ‘quasi-effective,’ was forced to order his entire population into its third lockdown on Wednesday.

It includes sending all school children home for three weeks to combat the rising tide of Covid infections.   

Countries in Europe reporting the most cases and deaths

CASES: 

FRANCE: 38,902

POLAND: 28,721

ITALY: 20,577

GERMANY: 16,344

UKRAINE: 13,466

DEATHS: 

ITALY: 430

POLAND: 386

RUSSIA: 376

FRANCE: 347

UKRAINE: 293

*Latest 7-day average reported

Health Minister Olivier Veran said today: ‘We could reach a peak of the epidemic in seven to 10 days if all goes according to plan … Then we need two extra weeks to reach a peak in intensive care units (ICUs) that could occur at the end of April.’ 

Daily new COVID-19 infections in France have doubled since February to average nearly 40,000. 

The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care breached 5,000 this week, exceeding the peak hit during the six-week second lockdown enforced late last year. 

France, along with Norway, has stopped giving AstraZeneca jabs to under-55s, while people under the age of 65 are banned from having the vaccine in Spain.

Earlier in the week Canada also halted its use in people under the age of 55 over the same clotting fears.  

Amid faltering confidence in AsraZeneca in Germany and a rising caseload, the country’s association of intensive care doctors today called on Angela Merkel to impose another national lockdown. 

Christian Karagiannidis, the DIVI’s scientific head, said about 1,000 additional patients had ended up in intensive care since the middle of March. On Wednesday, 3,680 people were in intensive care in Germany, DIVI data show.

‘If this rate continues, we will reach the regular capacity limit in less than four weeks,’ he said. ‘We are not overexaggerating. Our warnings are driven by the figures.’

Merkel is facing growing criticism for failing to spell out a plan to reverse rising infections and blaming uncooperative state leaders for an increasingly chaotic management of the crisis.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose 24,300 to 2.833 million on Thursday, the biggest increase since January 14. The reported death toll rose by 201 to 76,543.   

Germany has reported significantly more cases of cerebral sinus venous thrombosis (CSVT) than other major European countries and the reasons for it are unclear. The UK has vaccinated five times as many people but seen just one sixth as many CSVT cases, while France, Italy and Spain used the AstraZeneca jab on similar age groups but also had much lower rates of CSVT. There is still no evidence the vaccine is causing the condition, experts say

Germany has reported significantly more cases of cerebral sinus venous thrombosis (CSVT) than other major European countries and the reasons for it are unclear. The UK has vaccinated five times as many people but seen just one sixth as many CSVT cases, while France, Italy and Spain used the AstraZeneca jab on similar age groups but also had much lower rates of CSVT. There is still no evidence the vaccine is causing the condition, experts say

Several member states have paused rollouts of the AstraZeneca vaccine after a tiny number of inoculated people, predominantly women under 55, suffered deadly brain clots

Several member states have paused rollouts of the AstraZeneca vaccine after a tiny number of inoculated people, predominantly women under 55, suffered deadly brain clots

EU’s new threats to Britain over AstraZeneca supplies

Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, said ‘zero’ AstraZeneca jabs made on the continent would be shipped across the Channel until the company fulfilled its commitments to Europe.

He shot down hopes that Brussels and London could split doses made at the firm’s two major factories in Belgium and the Netherlands, saying ‘there is nothing to negotiate’ between the two parties. 

EU chiefs are furious that AstraZeneca has missed its delivery targets by tens of millions of doses, accusing the Anglo-Swedish firm of breaching its contract. 

Downing Street claims its deal with the drug giant for 100million doses means the UK gets first access to supplies from the Seneffe and Halix plants, but has suggested sharing them as part of a peace offering to the EU.

Mr Breton told the FT EU-made doses must be reserved for the bloc to make up for the shortfall, adding: If [AstraZeneca] does more, we don’t have any issue, but as long as it doesn’t deliver its commitment to us, the doses stay in Europe — except for Covax.’

UK Government sources described his comments as ‘disappointing’ and accused him of ‘not respecting lawful contracts’. They claimed the only way to get through the pandemic was to find a ‘win-win’.   

In a last ditched attempt to calm cross-Channel tensions, the EU’s former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier urged his colleagues to end the vaccine war last night. In his last speech representing the European Commission, Mr Barnier said the fight against Covid was ‘more than speed of vaccination’.

It was against this backdrop that Emer Cooke, the head of Europe’s medicines agency, the EMA, yesterday had to again reassure member states that the AstraZeneca vaccine was safe and effective.

It comes after cases of a rare type of blood clotting in the brain known as cerebral sinus venous thrombosis (CSVT) which emerged in Germany and other countries. 

The EMA’s ruling puts the watchdog at odds with many other major EU member states which have also restricted the jab’s rollout in certain age groups, including France, Spain and Norway.

Reports of CSVT have been most common in Germany, where 31 out of 2.7million vaccinated people suffered the deadly brain clot – a rate of one in 90,000. It led to the nation banning the vaccine in under-60s last night.

Ms Cooke said the rate of the blood clots could be one in 100,000 for people under 60 and that this did appear higher than the normal population risk, although there was still no solid link to the jab, only a ‘possible’ one.

While the reasons for the higher prevalence in Germany aren’t at all clear, the EMA revealed twice as many women had received AstraZenca’s jab in Europe than men, before adding that the people normally most at risk of CSVT are females aged 35 to 45.

Until recently Germany had suspended the AZ jab for over-60s due to initial fears about blood clots. It raises the possibility that the rates of CSVT among vaccinated people Germany can be explained by more women who are susceptible to the condition being targeted by the rollout.

Ms Cooke said: ‘At present, the experts have advised us that they have not been able to identify specific risk factors, including age, gender or previous medical history of clotting disorders, for these very rare events.

‘And, as I mentioned previously, a causal link of the vaccine has not yet been proven but it is possible, and further analysis is still ongoing. According to the current scientific knowledge, there is no evidence to support restricting the use of this vaccine in any population.’ 

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