EU approves AstraZeneca jab as WHO warns against ‘vaccine nationalism’

AMSTERDAM (AFP) – The European Union (EU) on Friday approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus jab for use on all adults as the World Health Organization (WHO) warned wealthy countries against “vaccine nationalism”, saying it will only prolong the pandemic.

Coronavirus outbreaks are raging around the globe with COVID-19 deaths nearing 2.2 million, and while some parts of the world are fighting over limited vaccine supplies, there are fears the less privileged will not get access for a long time.

The vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford became the third to get EU approval after Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, but it came under the shadow of a bitter diplomatic row with Britain over which countries will get the scarce doses currently available.

“I expect the company (AstraZeneca) to deliver the 400 million doses as agreed,” tweeted European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen, as she announced the authorisation.

The British-Swedish firm has admitted it will only be able to deliver a fraction of the doses promised to the bloc in the short-term due to production problems, saying there is not enough to fulfil supply promises to both Britain and Europe.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine. PHOTO: AP

The supply issue is a huge blow to Europe’s already stumbling vaccine rollout, setting it on a collision course with Britain, which left the bloc just weeks ago. In a sign of the growing tensions, the EU on Friday released a redacted version of its contract with AstraZeneca, while announcing a mechanism that could allow it to deny the export of vaccines made on European soil.

But it backtracked on a threat to restrict exports to Northern Ireland after Britain voiced “grave concerns”.

The EU-Britain tussle has highlighted the impact of shortages on ambitious mass vaccination programmes, even on wealthy nations, and fears are growing that the developed world is hogging doses, leaving poorer nations behind.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned on Friday against “vaccine nationalism”, saying there was a “real danger that the very tools that could help to end the pandemic – vaccines – may exacerbate” global inequality.