British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was expected to speak to EU leaders on Monday in an effort to resolve the escalating row over Covid-19 vaccine supplies from AstraZeneca.
Johnson is due to hold talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron ahead of an EU leaders virtual meeting on Thursday to discuss a ban on Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine exports to the UK.
European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has raised the prospect of an export ban amid claims by the bloc that AstraZeneca is favouring supplies to the UK despite a contract to supply Europe with millions of doses.
Several European countries paused rollouts of the vaccine amid concerns of a possible link with blood clots. UK and EU regulators said there was no evidence of this.
European leaders have faced criticism for the slow pace of the vaccine rollout on the continent with less than 12% of the EU’s population reported to have received the vaccine, compared with nearly 40% in the UK.
UK Health Minister said the government wanted to calm rising tensions amid claims of vaccine “nationalism”.
“What we’re hearing at the moment is some speculation, some conjecture, an element of rhetoric. But what is actually important is that the EU and no country should follow vaccine nationalism or vaccine protectionism,” she told the BBC.
“We expect the European Union to stick by their commitments and I’m sure the prime minister will be in contact with European counterparts – he speaks to European counterparts regularly – but I don’t think this debate is helpful to anybody.”
In other developments, the long-awaited results of the US trial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which involved more than 32,000 volunteers, showed it was safe and highly effective.
She would not rule out the UK taking retaliatory action if the EU were to block the export of vaccines to the UK.