UK prime minister spoke to European Commission head as Britain faces shortfall of jabs

Boris Johnson has privately urged European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to avert a coronavirus vaccine war, as Britain’s Covid-19 inoculation programme braces for a surprise shortfall of jabs next month.
The UK prime minister raised his concerns after von der Leyen publicly floated possible controls on EU-made vaccine exports, in a move widely seen as targeted at Britain. UK ministers insisted that contracts to supply vaccines — including BioNTech/Pfizer doses made in Belgium — must be honoured.
The EU has long complained that Britain has not exported any UK-made vaccines to the bloc even as millions of jabs have flowed in the other direction. However British ministers have pointed out that AstraZeneca signed an early deal with the UK government to supply 100m doses of the vaccine it developed with Oxford university.
Downing Street and the European Commission declined to comment on the conversation between Johnson and von der Leyen, which happened on Wednesday, but people briefed on the call confirmed the content. Some British officials said the commission president had not made any explicit threats about which vaccines might be blocked from reaching the UK.
Von der Leyen has said all options are on the table, as Brussels insists that countries benefiting from EU vaccine production show “reciprocity”.
The disclosures came as the European Commission fleshed out plans to tighten up rules on exports of vaccines to countries that it believes should be sending jabs to the EU.
The proposals, which are likely to be discussed by EU leaders next week, have triggered a mixed response among member states, however, as some capitals fret that the bloc risks damaging its reputation as a reliable supplier of jabs to the world. 
UK health secretary Matt Hancock said Thursday: “I’m sure the EU will live up to the commitments and statements it has made — including President von der Leyen herself.”
Johnson struck a conciliatory note at a Downing Street press conference, saying he wanted to “co-operate with our European friends” and promising the public: “We will get on and deliver all the second doses of Pfizer.”
The UK prime minister insisted Britain’s “progress along the road to freedom remains unchecked”, even as he confirmed the country will be hit next month by a shortfall of vaccines.
He confirmed Britain’s inoculation programme would be knocked off course in April by the delayed arrival of an estimated 4m vaccines from India and a need to retest a batch of 1.7m AstraZeneca doses.
The shortfall of vaccines will mean a dramatic drop in the number of Britons receiving first doses in April, but Johnson insisted that the “road map” for the phased lifting of Covid-19 restrictions in England remained intact.
Johnson revealed that he would receive his first jab — an AstraZeneca dose — on Friday, adding: “The Oxford jab is safe and the Pfizer jab is safe. The thing that isn’t safe is catching Covid.”
His comments came as Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said on Thursday there was no evidence to suggest that blood clots in veins were caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine, echoing a verdict of the European Medicines Agency.
The MHRA is conducting a further review into a “very rare” type of blood clot in the cerebral veins reported in fewer than one in a million people vaccinated in the UK. A causal association had not been established.
Some EU nations suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine because of concern about a possible link to blood clots, but the EMA said on Thursday the AstraZeneca jab was “safe and effective”.
Johnson confirmed there had been a delay to the “scheduled arrival from the Serum Institute” of India-made doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
British officials identified a 4m-jab shortfall. Johnson said the delay was caused by “technical” issues, adding: “The Indian government hasn’t stopped any export.”
Hancock said at least 12m people would still receive a second Covid-19 vaccine dose next month. But the number of first doses would be cut dramatically and supply in April would be “tighter than this month”, he added.
The health secretary said all over-50s would be offered a jab by April 15 and all adults would be covered by the end of July — in line with the government’s targets. A new Moderna vaccine would arrive in the “coming weeks”, he added.
One person familiar with the situation said first doses would fall by at least 80 per cent month-on-month following an NHS edict on Wednesday that no further new jab appointments should be booked for April because of the shortfall of vaccines.
A total of 10m AstraZeneca vaccine doses had been expected to enter the UK from the Serum Institute, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, according to people briefed on the matter. Although there had been no timeframe specified for the shipments from India, 5m of those doses were sent several weeks ago, they said.
Hancock said that in the last week a batch of 1.7m doses was delayed because of “the need to retest its stability”.
Allies of the health secretary added the checks — said by health officials to relate to AstraZeneca vaccines — had nothing to do with fears of any link between the jab and blood clots.
AstraZeneca referred to a statement it issued on Wednesday, which said its UK “supply chain is not experiencing any disruption and there is no impact on our delivery schedule” to Britain.
Pfizer said it had an agreement with the UK government to supply 40m doses by the end of the year, adding that first quarter deliveries “remain on track”.
Additional reporting by Sebastian Payne, John Burn-Murdoch and Anna Gross in London and Hannah Kuchler in New York