Andrew Marr spoke with EU finance chief Mairead McGuinness who defended the bloc’s behaviour after European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen threatened to ban exports of vaccines from the continent to countries with a high vaccination rate. While Ms McGuinness listed off how the EU is supporting the vaccine rollout internationally, Mr Marr embarrassingly pointed out that millions of the AstraZeneca vaccine sit unused in European storage. The BBC host said Europe should simply use those doses and revealed that Oxford scientist John Bell called the EU’s policy “crackers”.
Mr Marr put the vaccine storage issue to Ms McGuinness who replied: “I’ve read those comments and frankly none of us has had a great Covid.
“I think all of us should put our hands up and say we were not prepared for this pandemic.
“We did not do our best at the beginning but we are doing our best now to protect our citizens.
“And I think that’s exactly where Europe is focused right now.
“And once everyone is protected we are safe.”
In France, the nation faces another national lockdown as hospitals overflow with patients who have had to be airlifted and transferred to more rural medical facilities.
New variants also rip through regions in France as local leaders were finally granted lockdown measures after demanding president Emmanuel Macron to implement them.
Ms McGuinness continued: “So I think that we all need to calm down, look ‘dispassionately’ at the situation if you like around the raw materials surrounding the vaccines and where they are produced.
“And think how might we ramp up that production.
“But more importantly, I think a lot of experts are saying that we need to be prepared for other variants because we know that the UK variant has spread widely and it harder to treat.”
In Europe, and in particular France and Germany, new COVID-19 variants are appearing and spreading quickly as a new Brittany variant was discovered in France this week.
The new variant was harder to detect using PCR tests and the Kent, Brazil and South African strains have also been labelled as “worrying” in the neighbouring country.
Ms McGuinness continued: “The UK variant causes more rapid transmission and we have to be prepared for any fork that may happen or if another variant arises which might be more difficult [to cure].
“So this conversation and opinion, we need to let wiser counsel prevail here but it is interesting how when facts are put on the table – different opinions form.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion and we have put our facts on the table.”
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The UK has stated the EU should “stand by its commitments” after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the bloc’s threat of a vaccine export ban was predicated on the desire to be transparent rather than punitive.
European countries paused the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine after there were fears it caused fatal blood clots among citizens jabbed.
However, the World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Agency both warned against the pause with the latter concluding the jab was “safe and effective” to use.
Vaccine hesitancy, which was already a rising issue in Europe, is expected to rise as heads of state give different and confusing messages about the efficacy and safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine.