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Boris Johnson sends envoy to Serum Institute for vaccine deal with India

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LaToya Harding
·Contributor
·6-min read
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India has exported more than 60 million vaccines so far, however, this is significantly more than the doses it has given to those in the country. Photo: Amit Dave/Reuters
India has exported more than 60 million vaccines so far, however, this is significantly more than the doses it has given to those in the country. Photo: Amit Dave/Reuters

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has sent an envoy to India to secure millions of doses of the AstraZeneca (AZN.L) COVID-19 vaccine.

Lord Eddie Lister, the PM's Conservative peer, and international adviser David Quarrey, met with India's foreign secretary Harsh Shringla in New Delhi on Monday. They discussed "bilateral relations and outcomes" for Johnson's visit to India next month, the FT reported, citing India's Ministry of External Affairs.

Lister will go on to visit the Serum Institute of India, the world's largest vaccine maker and a producer of the AstraZeneca jab, in a bid to make a deal on delivery of the UK's doses.

India has exported more than 60 million vaccines so far, however, this is significantly more than the doses it has given to those in the country.

"Lord Lister is making a personal trip on his way to Pune to help resolve this," a source told the newspaper. "He wants doses but the Indian government is stalling because in parliament they are questioning why are we exporting the vaccines."

The UK's vaccine rollout programme has already faced delays after the late arrival of around 5 million doses from the Serum Institute.

Last week health secretary Matt Hancock said the delay, caused by manufacturing issues, will disrupt Britain's vaccination programme next month. Other ministers have likewise warned of a drop in vaccinations numbers in coming weeks.

WATCH: Serum Institute delay slowing UK vaccine rollout

At a recent news conference in Downing Street, Boris Johnson said: "I want to thank the Serum Institute of India for their heroic role in producing huge quantities of vaccine."

"It is true that in the short term we're receiving fewer vaccines than we had planned for a week ago. As a result, we will receive slightly fewer vaccines in April than in March, but that is still more than we received in February, and the supply we do have will still enable us to hit the targets we have set," he said.

A spokesman for the Serum Institute said it had delivered 5 million doses to Britain a few weeks ago, adding it would "try to supply more later, based on the current situation and requirement for the government immunisation programme in India".

On Saturday, Britain reached a fresh milestone, announcing that half of the UK adult population have now received a first dose of a COVID vaccine.

According to the latest government figures, more than 27 million people in the UK have had their first dose of the vaccine.

READ MORE: Half of UK adults receive first COVID jab as Pfizer warns EU to back down on vaccine threat

It comes as the UK is also battling threats from the European Union (EU) that it will block exports of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from reaching Britain.

European Commission (EC) president Ursula von der Leyen renewed threats over the weekend and declared a jab warfare on the UK. She said the continent has the power to ban exports if the pharma firm didn't meet its supply obligations to the EU.

"That is the message to AstraZeneca. You fulfil your contract with Europe before you start delivering to other countries," she told German newspapers.

It is not the first time, the EC president has threatened the UK amid the vaccine row. Previously, von der Leyen said she would halt the export of coronavirus vaccines into Britain unless Boris Johnson surrendered British-made AstraZeneca jabs to the EU.

READ MORE: Vaccine row heats up as EU doubles down on threat to ban AstraZeneca exports to UK

On Monday the Swedish-British drugmaker received a boost from investors after a string of countries in Asia accelerated their COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

It was also bolstered by news that data from large trials in the United States, Chile and Peru showed that its coronavirus vaccine was 79% effective, meaning an emergency authorisation in America could soon follow.

Over the weekend, leaders in Asia received the AstraZeneca jab in a bid to boost public confidence after concerns over its safety.

Thailand’s prime minister was the first person in the country to get the AstraZeneca vaccine after its rollout was paused there. Indonesia also began its rollout programme again after suspending it last week.

AstraZeneca shares rose on the back of the positive news. Chart: Yahoo Finance
AstraZeneca shares rose on the back of the positive news. Chart: Yahoo Finance

Several European countries likewise suspended the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab amid concerns it caused blood clotting. However, last week they restarted their rollout after the EU medicines regulator deemed it “safe and effective” for use.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) concluded on Thursday that the benefits of the jab outweighed the possible risks, but that it would continue to study possible links between rare blood clots and the vaccine.

Germany, Italy and Spain were among the countries to resume the rollout after halting it earlier, along with Portugal, the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus and Bulgaria. But a number of Scandinavian countries have decided to keep the jab on hold.

WATCH: EU drug regulator rules AstraZeneca vaccine 'safe and effective'

Sweden said it will make a decision about its paused rollout this week, while the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said it would take a decision after it gets a “full picture of the situation.”

Soren Brostrom, head of the Danish Health Authority, told reporters on Friday: "We need time to get to the bottom of this."

Finland, which had not previously suspended the vaccine, announced it would halt the use of the AstraZeneca shot while investigating two suspected cases of blood clots.

Around 5 million Europeans have already received the AstraZeneca jab so far.

READ MORE: EU regulator declares AstraZeneca vaccine 'safe and effective'

In a previous statement, AstraZeneca said there was no evidence of an increased risk of clotting due to the vaccine.

The company said that across the EU and the United Kingdom there had been 15 events of deep-vein thrombosis and 22 events of pulmonary embolism reported among more than 17 million people vaccinated.

Ann Taylor, the firm's chief medical officer, said on Monday: “Around 17 million people in the EU and UK have now received our vaccine, and the number of cases of blood clots reported in this group is lower than the hundreds of cases that would be expected among the general population.”

She added: "The nature of the pandemic has led to increased attention in individual cases and we are going beyond the standard practices for safety monitoring of licensed medicines in reporting vaccine events, to ensure public safety."

WATCH: What UK government COVID-19 support is available?