UK will help where it can with vaccine as EU considers export ban, says minister
Prisons minister Lucy Frazer said the dispute between the EU and the British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant was a "commercial matter", after reports suggested the bloc was considering an export ban to block shipments of vaccines to Britain.
But, in an indication the UK could be willing to share its vaccine supplies, Frazer added: "Our priority is to ensure we vaccinate people in the UK, but of course, where we can help our friends and neighbours, we would do that."
The European Medicines Agency is expected to deliver its verdict on the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab on Friday.
And, according to reports, Brussels could be set to announce powers that would see the shipment of millions of vaccine doses to Britain blocked within days.
The European Commission is said to be considering an export ban in a bid 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 Inc jab.
Brussels has already called for AstraZeneca - which aims to supply two million doses per week to the UK - to send vaccines made at its UK plants across the Channel, after the firm allegedly told the bloc that only a quarter of the 100 million doses it was expecting by March were likely to be delivered.
AstraZeneca on Friday 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 two UK plants as production sites for vaccines destined for the EU.
Despite the argument heating up, Kate Bingham, former chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, said she did not think an export ban would materialise.
She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We are interdependent and I don't think that the idea that there are going to be trade barriers is something that we should be considering."
The supply row has spilled over into domestic politics, with the Scottish Government suggesting it could go against Downing Street advice and publish vaccine supply data.
Frazer said the UK government was advising against sharing the information for "security reasons".
But 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.
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.
"I think we have been extremely transparent, where it is appropriate to do so, to inform the public about how we are managing the pandemic."
Pressed on what she meant by "security reasons", the junior minister replied: "That is the information I have received." ■