The message from Boris Johnson’s press conference this evening was one of reassurance. Following the decision by several EU member states to suspend use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine over concerns about a potential link with blood clots, the Prime Minister said that the vaccine is safe and that ‘the benefits of the vaccine in preventing Covid far outweigh any risks’.
Pointing to statements from both the UK and EU regulators on its safety, Johnson said the thing that ‘isn’t safe is catching Covid’. Johnson was also at pains to calm concerns over vaccine supply. The Prime Minister admitted that the UK was experiencing a supply issue — but said that despite this, there would still be more vaccinations in April than there were in February. Crucially, both Johnson and his Health Secretary have stressed that these delays will not have any impact on the timeline for the roadmap out of lockdown.
Inside government, however, there are some nerves about the weeks ahead. Ministers and aides have been praised in recent months for adopting a new mantra of ‘underpromising and overdelivering’. While some of this disruption to supply came as a surprise, recent excited briefings to the media about a likely surge in jabs are viewed with regret. It also wouldn’t take much for the situation to worsen.
No one in government is quite sure whether the EU will press ahead on its threat of blocking vaccine exports to the UK. Several ministers view it as unlikely — but not impossible. Johnson was keen to play down the suggestion at the podium. But it only takes a few more things to go wrong for the vaccine timetable to look rather different.<//>
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