Europe-vaccine

France criticises British 'blackmail', Russian 'propaganda' in vaccine rows

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian with Britain's Boris Johnson, 16 April 2018.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian with Britain's Boris Johnson, 16 April 2018. AFP

France's foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, has accused Britain of "blackmailing" the European Union in the dispute about under-delivery of Covid-19 vaccines. The minister has also criticised Russia for using its Sputnik vaccine as "propaganda". France has yet to develop a vaccine of its own.

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"The United Kingdom has taken great pride in vaccinating well with the first dose, except they have a problem with the second dose," Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Info radio on Friday.

"You are vaccinated when you have had both doses. Today there are as many people vaccinated with both in France as in the United Kingdom," he added, while calling for a "cooperation agreement" with London over deliveries by Anglo-Swedish pharma group AstraZeneca.

"You can't play around like this, using a bit of blackmail, just because you hurried to get people vaccinated with a first shot, and now you're a bit handicapped because you don't have the second one," he added.

The latest EU-UK row is about an AstraZeneca plant in the Netherlands, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government claims as part of the British vaccine supply chain.

The European Union warned Thursday it would ban pharmaceutical firms from exporting coronavirus vaccines to the UK and other well-supplied countries, until the drug makers fulfil their promised deliveries to the bloc.

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen's warning - which could hit UK-based AstraZeneca first - came after Thursday's video summit of all 27 EU leaders and stoked fears that cross-Channel rivalry could damage global efforts to combat the pandemic.

According to data compiled by the French AFP news agency, Britain has administered two vaccine doses to 4.1 percent of its population, against 3.9 percent in France.

A swipe at Sputnik

Le Drian also had harsh words for the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine, accusing Moscow of using the jabs as a "propaganda" tool.

"In terms of how it is managed, it (the Sputnik V vaccine) is more a means of propaganda and aggressive diplomacy than a means of solidarity and health aid," Le Drian said in Friday's interview. 

His comments were swiftly dismissed by Moscow. 

"We absolutely disagree with the fact that Russia and China are using the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines as tools of influence," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

On Friday the German government said that it would be open to using the Russian-made Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine once it had been approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). 

"EMA approval - which Sputnik does not yet have - would provide the opportunity to use the vaccine in inoculation campaigns in Europe, and it would then also be worth considering for Germany," said Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesperson Steffen Seibert. 

Last week, Merkel herself directly referred to Sputnik jabs and said Germany "should use any vaccine that has been approved" by the EMA. 

The EMA this month launched a rolling review of Sputnik V, a key step towards it being approved as the first non-Western coronavirus jab to be used across the 27-nation bloc.

Russia registered Sputnik V in August, ahead of large-scale clinical trials, prompting worries among many experts over the fast-track process.

Later reviews have been largely positive, with leading medical journal The Lancet publishing results showing the Russian treatment to be safe and more than 90 percent effective.

 (With AFP)

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