LONDON (Reuters) – Britain has a legal right to AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which it helped to fund and develop, health minister Matt Hancock on Wednesday, in a sharp rebuke to criticism from the European Union that Britain has not been exporting the shots.
European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen earlier threatened to ban exports of COVID-19 vaccines to Britain to safeguard scarce doses for its own citizens, airing frustration over a lack of deliveries from AstraZeneca in Britain.
Relations between Britain and the EU have become increasingly fractious in the context of Britain’s departure from the bloc’s orbit at the start of the year, while the EU is lagging behind Britain with its vaccine rollout.
Asked about the issue of vaccine supplies from the EU, Hancock said that he worked with European colleagues all the time but the shot, created with the University of Oxford, was developed with funding from the British government.
“We set up the supply chain, not just here in the UK but indeed, we helped set up the supply chain in the EU,” he said at a news conference.
“We legally signed a contract for delivery of the first 100 million doses here for people in the UK, as you would expect, both to ensure that people in the UK can get their jab and also because this is a UK-funded, UK-delivered vaccine.”
Hancock said that Britain was happy for the shot to be manufactured around the world, but quoted a tweet von der Leyen sent in late January saying “there should not be restrictions on the export of vaccines by companies where they are fulfilling contractual responsibilities”.
“So the supply of vaccines from EU production facilities to the UK is indeed fulfilling contractual responsibilities, and we fully expect those contracts to be delivered on,” he said.
(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Barbara Lewis)