Behind the scenes

EU facing pressure to follow UK’s lead on delaying second Covid vaccine

World Health Organization backs decision to leave eight to 12 weeks between doses

EU leaders are coming under increasing pressure to fall into line with Britain’s strategy of delaying the second Covid-19 vaccine dose after the World Health Organization (WHO) gave its backing to the plan.

The WHO yesterday signed off on giving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to older adults, while also encouraging countries to delay the second jab in order to inoculate more people in a shorter period of time.

Boris Johnson responded to the WHO’s announcement by saying that it was “good to see” the health body vindicate the decision to give patients their second shot between eight and 12 weeks after the first jab.

The WHO’s judgement “will be taken as a vindication of Britain’s controversial decision to disregard dosing strategies” in order to “quickly offer protection to millions more older people”, The Times says. “It also gives reassurance to those unnerved by criticism of the vaccine from EU leaders, who will now come under pressure to fall into line with the British approach.”

Several EU nations, including Germany and France, have not recommended the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for the over-65s. French President Emmanuel Macron went so far as to wrongly state that the jab is only “quasi-ineffective” when used on people over 65.

The WHO committee said research “suggests it is likely that the vaccine will be found to be efficacious in older persons”, Politico reports, and therefore found that “taking the totality of available evidence into account” it recommends its use on older patients. 

David Spiegelhalter, professor of biostatistics at the University of Cambridge, told The Times it would be interesting to see “how this goes down in Germany, France, Austria, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Spain, who are all currently denying their older citizens this protection”.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen yesterday said she “deeply regretted” the EU’s threat to restrict the flow of vaccines passing between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Insisting that “in the end we got it right” she added that the EU “will do its utmost to protect the peace in Northern Ireland”.

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