EU agency says AstraZeneca vaccine is ‘safe and effective’

A review by the EU’s medicines regulator has concluded the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is “safe and effective”.

A woman is vaccinated against Covid-19 with the AstraZeneca vaccine in Genoa, Italy, 10 March 2021.
image captionGermany, France and Italy were among the countries to pause their rollouts of the vaccine as a precaution

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) investigated after 13 EU states suspended use of the vaccine over fears of a link to blood clots.

It found the jab was “not associated” with a higher risk of clots.

Italy announced it would resume using the jab on Friday while Sweden said it needed a “few days” to decide

It is up to individual EU states to decide whether and when to re-start vaccinations using the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The agency’s investigation focused on a small number of cases of unusual blood disorders. In particular, it was looking at cases of cerebral venous thrombosis – blood clots in the head. 

Decisions to suspend use of the vaccine sparked concerns over the pace of the region’s vaccination drive, which had already been affected by supply shortages.

Much of Europe is struggling to contain a surge in coronavirus cases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday called on countries to continue using the vaccine, and is due to release the results of its own review into the vaccine’s safety on Friday. 

What did the EMA say exactly?

Emer Cooke, the agency’s executive director, told a news conference: “This is a safe and effective vaccine.”

“Its benefits in protecting people from Covid-19 with the associated risks of death and hospitalisation outweigh the possible risks.” 

Emer Cooke
image captionMrs Cooke was speaking at an online news conference in Amsterdam

The EMA’s expert committee on medicine safety, Mrs Cooke said, found that “the vaccine is not associated with an increase in the overall risk of… blood clots”. 

But the EMA, she added, could not rule out definitively a link between the vaccine and a “small number of cases of rare and unusual but very serious clotting disorders”.

Therefore the committee has, she said, recommended raising awareness of these possible risks, making sure they are included in the product information. Additional investigations are being launched, Mrs Cooke added. 

“If it was me, I would be vaccinated tomorrow,” Mrs Cooke added. “But I would want to know that if anything happened to me after vaccination what I should do about it and that’s what we’re saying today.”

Why did European countries act?

Thirteen EU countries suspended use of the vaccine, after reports of a small number of cases of blood clots among vaccine recipients in the region.

Leading EU states said they had opted to pause their use of the drug as a “precautionary measure”.

“There were a few very unusual and troubling cases which justify this pause and the analysis,” French immunologist Alain Fischer, who heads a government advisory board, told France Inter radio. “It’s not lost time.”

In Germany, the health ministry also pointed to a small number of rare blood clots in vaccinated people when justifying its decision. It postponed a summit on extending the vaccine rollout ahead of the EMA’s announcement. 

Other countries, such as Austria, halted the use of certain batches of the drug, while Belgium, Poland and the Czech Republic were among those to say they would continue to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Decisions to halt rollouts of the AstraZeneca vaccine were criticised by some politicians and scientists.

A spokeswoman for Germany’s opposition Free Democrats said the decision had set back the country’s entire vaccination rollout. German Greens health expert Janosch Dahmen, meanwhile, argued that authorities could have continued using the drug.

Dr Anthony Cox, who researches drug safety at the UK’s University of Birmingham, told the BBC it was a “cascade of bad decision-making that’s spread across Europe”.

What has AstraZeneca said?

The company says there is no evidence of an increased risk of clotting due to the vaccine.

It said it had received 37 reports of blood clots out of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the EU and UK as of 8 March.

These figures were “much lower than would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of this size and is similar across other licensed Covid-19 vaccines”, it said.

Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford vaccine group which developed the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, told the BBC on Monday that there was “very reassuring evidence that there is no increase in a blood clot phenomenon here in the UK, where most of the doses in Europe [have] been given so far”.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock this weekurged people to “listen to the regulators” and to “get the jab”. 

Chart showing the number of countries using each vaccine. Updated 15 March.

French Industry Minister: AstraZeneca CEO is ‘on a hot seat’

PARIS (Reuters) – The chief executive of AstraZeneca – whose COVID-19 vaccine has been temporarily suspended in several European countries – is “on a hot seat and knows it”, said French Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher.

Pannier-Runacher also told France Info radio on Tuesday that France needed more details from AstraZeneca regarding its COVID-19 vaccine production plans.

Covid-19: Ireland’s vaccine body proposes AstraZeneca suspension

The suspension of the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Ireland has been proposed by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee.

It came after a report from Norway on serious blood clotting events in adults who received the vaccine.

Irish Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said the decision was taken “on the precautionary principal”.

The World Health Organisation has said there was no link between the jab and an increased risk of developing a clot.

On Friday, the World Health Organisation said countries should not stop using the vaccine over fears it causes blood clots as there is no indication this is true.

In a statement on Sunday. Dr Glynn said the new information was received from the Norwegian Medicines Agency on Saturday night.

“It has not been concluded that there is any link between the Covid-19 vaccine AstraZeneca and these cases.

“However, acting on the precautionary principal, and pending receipt of further information, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee has recommended the temporary deferral of the COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca vaccination programme in Ireland.”

In a statement to RTÉ, a spokesperson for AstraZeneca said that an analysis of safety data covering more than 17 million doses of the vaccine administered has shown no evidence of an increased risk of the conditions concerned, and that no trends or patterns were observed in clinical trials.

The NIAC is due to meet on Sunday morning to discuss the issue and will make a statement following the meeting.

Source: BBC

Covid vaccinations: No reason to stop using AstraZeneca jab – WHO

Countries should not stop using AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine over fears it causes blood clots as there is no indication this is true, the World Health Organization says.

Bulgaria is the latest country to suspend use of the vaccine.

But a WHO spokeswoman told a briefing on Friday there was no link between the jab and developing a clot.

Margaret Harris said it was an “excellent vaccine” and should continue to be used.

Around 5 million Europeans have already received the AstraZeneca jab.

There have been about 30 cases in Europe of “thromboembolic events” – or developing blood clots – after the vaccine was administered. There were also reports that a 50-year-old man had died in Italy after developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

The WHO is investigating the reports, as it does any safety questions, Ms Harris said.

But no causal relationship had been established between the shot and the health problems reported, she said.

Bulgaria’s decision to pause its rollout follows similar steps by Denmark, Iceland and Norway as well as Thailand. Italy and Austria have stopped using certain batches of the drug as a precautionary measure.

“I order a halt in vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine until the European Medicines Agency dismisses all doubts about its safety,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said.

The European Medicines Agency, the EU’s medicines regulator, said earlier there was no indication the jab was causing the blood clots, adding that its “benefits continue to outweigh its risks”.

AstraZeneca said the drug’s safety had been studied extensively in clinical trials.

Other countries, including the UK, Germany, Australia and Mexico, have said they are continuing their rollout.

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‘Safety first’

Analysis box by Michelle Roberts, health editor

While vast numbers of people are being vaccinated at pace around the world, some of them will still get sick with other things unrelated to the vaccine.

These pauses for the AstraZeneca vaccine are not because it is unsafe to give. It’s to allow time for experts to explore why a small number of people who were recently give the shot also developed blood clots.

When an illness occurs shortly after vaccination, it is right to question whether the shot might have contributed in any way.

There is no indication or evidence, however, that the vaccine was linked or responsible.

In the UK, more than 11 million people have already received at least one dose of the vaccine and there has been no sign of excess deaths or blood clots occurring. Europe’s drug regulator has also backed the vaccine, saying its benefits are clear. Covid can be deadly and vaccination saves lives. 

Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn said he disagreed with the countries suspending the vaccinations.

“From what we know so far, the benefit… is far greater than the risk,” he said.

The temporary suspensions come as a setback for a European vaccination campaign that has stuttered into life, partly due to delays in delivery of the doses.

In the latest upset, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz complained that the EU was not distributing coronavirus vaccines fairly among member states – according to population size, as agreed.

He said some countries were striking side deals with vaccine makers instead of leaving procurement to the European Commission.

The German health ministry acknowledged in January that Germany had signed a deal for 30 million doses with Pfizer BioNTech in September.

After cases declined in recent months, several European countries are now seeing a resurgence. France, Italy, Poland and Turkey have seen the highest numbers in recent weeks.

The whole of Italy is braced to enter the country’s strictest lockdown measures over the Easter weekend, 3 to 5 April.

Under rules set to be confirmed by the government, residents will only be allowed to leave home for work, health reasons, essential shopping or emergencies. All non-essential shops will be closed as will bars and restaurants. School lessons must be held online. 

The total number of deaths in Italy rose to 100,000 on Monday – the highest toll in Europe after the UK. Officials say infection rates are rising as new variants of the virus take hold. 

Chart showing the countries in Europe with the highest average number of cases in the last week. Updated 12 March.

Coronavirus: AstraZeneca jab recommended for Ireland’s over 70s

The Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine has been recommended for people aged over 70 in the Republic of Ireland.

In fresh advice, the country’s National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) said there should not be a delay in its use, RTÉ reported.

The Pfizer and Moderna jabs had previously been approved for over-70s.

About 100,000 people in this age group have been vaccinated in the country, with 500,000 yet to receive one.

In its previous advice on 2 February, NIAC recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine only be administered to people aged under-65 amid concerns about the available data on its efficacy for older age groups.

Following this, Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan recommended that it not be used for people aged over 70.

A number of other EU countries, such as France and Germany, also limited its use, while France’s President Emmanuel Macron claimed the vaccine was “quasi-ineffective” for over-65s.

In March, both countries revised their policies.

Dr Ronan Glynn
image captionDr Ronan Glynn is expected to deliver the revised recommendation to the Irish government

The EU drugs regulator had approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for all age groups, however, it was up to each member state to set its own roll-out policy.

RTÉ said Ireland’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn is expected to report the latest NIAC recommendation to government shortly.

Supply criticism

It follows a claim by the European Council President Charles Michel who accused the UK of imposing an “outright ban” on the export of coronavirus vaccines.

He said it applied to all vaccines and components produced in the UK.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab responded that the claim was “completely false”.

The Irish government has also been critical of the number of AstraZeneca vaccines delivered to the bloc.

On Thursday, Tánaiste (Irish deputy prime minister) Leo Varadkar said the company’s explanations “are not satisfactory” and other providers had honoured their commitments “give or take a few glitches”.

Covid: Italy ‘blocks’ AstraZeneca vaccine shipment to Australia

The Italian government has blocked the export of an Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine shipment to Australia, according to Italian media reports.

The decision affects 250,000 doses of the vaccine produced at an AstraZeneca facility in Italy.

The move has been backed by the European Commission, the reports say.

The news comes amid a row between EU officials and the company, which has provided only a fraction of the agreed supply to member states.

Under the EU vaccine scheme, which was established in June last year, the bloc has negotiated the purchase of vaccines on behalf of member states.

In January, the then Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte described delays in vaccine supplies by both AstraZeneca and Pfizer as “unacceptable” and accused the companies of violating their contracts.

Source: BBC

AstraZeneca forecasts 2021 growth after fourth – quarter sales beat

(Reuters) – AstraZeneca on Thursday forecast 2021 revenue growth after the COVID-19 vaccine developer beat analysts’ estimates for fourth-quarter product sales, as a wide range of therapies helped cushion the hit from the pandemic.

The British drugmaker said it expects 2021 revenues to increase by a low teens percentage, with “faster growth” in core earnings to $4.75 to $5.00 per share. Quarterly product sales of $7.01 billion surpassed a company-compiled consensus of $6.81 billion.

2020 was a crucial year for AstraZeneca. It teamed up with the University of Oxford to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, and made its largest ever deal by buying U.S. drugmaker Alexion for $39 billion as it bet on rare-disease and immunology drugs.

The London-listed company said its forecast did not include any impact from its COVID-19 vaccine, adding it intended to break out sales from the shot beginning in the first quarter this year.

Covid: EU publishes disputed AstraZeneca Covid jab contract

The European Commission has published a redacted version of its contract with drug-maker AstraZeneca for its Covid vaccine, amid a row over supplies.

The move came hours after Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen increased pressure on the company over its decision to reduce supplies to the EU.

The contract signed in August contained “binding orders”, she told German radio, and called for an explanation.

The vaccine is expected to be approved by the EU medicines regulator later.

UK-Swedish AstraZeneca is blaming production delays at two plants.

The August deal was for 300 million doses for the European Union to be delivered after regulatory approval, with an option for 100 million more.

But EU sources say they now expect to get only about a quarter of the 100 million vaccines they were expecting to receive by March, a shortfall of about 75 million jabs.

AstraZeneca says the production problems are at its plants in the Netherlands and Belgium.

The EU decided to publish the contract, with the agreement of AstraZeneca, to try to back its argument that the company is reneging on its commitments.

Many parts of the published contract have been redacted – blanked out – to protect sensitive information. 

The company’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, earlier this week highlighted a clause in the contract stipulating that the company would make its “best effort” to meet EU demand, without compelling the company to stick to a specific timetable – an assertion disputed by the EU. 

Announcing the publication of the contract, the Commission said it welcomed AstraZeneca’s “commitment towards more transparency in its participation in the rollout of the EU Vaccines Strategy”.

The EU is under pressure after criticism that the pace of vaccine distribution in several member countries has been too slow. 

Supplies of another vaccine, produced by Pfizer-BioNTech, have also dropped due to production issues. 

Warning of a ‘vaccine war’

“There are binding orders and the contract is crystal clear,” Mrs von der Leyen said in Friday morning’s radio interview. 

“‘Best effort’ was valid while it was still unclear whether they could develop a vaccine. That time is behind us. The vaccine is there. 

“AstraZeneca has also explicitly assured us in this contract that no other obligations would prevent the contract from being fulfilled,” she said. 

AstraZeneca is producing the jab at its UK plants too and there have been no reported problems with its contract with the UK authorities. 

contract

EU officials say AstraZeneca has been asked to send some doses manufactured in the UK to the continent to make up the shortfall, but the company said on Wednesday that its contract for UK supplies prevented this.

UK Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said on Wednesday that UK supplies “won’t be interrupted”.

But Mrs von der Leyen insisted the EU’s contract with AstraZeneca listed two UK plants as production sites for vaccine destined for the EU.

Calling for the document to be published, she said: “We are speaking with the company about which parts need to be redacted. But we want to achieve transparency.”

The EU is likely to unveil special powers later to help ensure its supply of vaccines, including a possible limit on the export of vaccines produced in the bloc.

There is speculation that these powers could also see companies being forced to hand over production to other firms inside the EU and share intellectual property.

However, the European Council is stressing the need for negotiations in order to reach a solution before enforcement becomes necessary. 

Meanwhile, EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders has warned of a “vaccine war”. 

Speaking on Belgian radio, he said: “The EU commission has pushed to co-ordinate the vaccines contracts on behalf of the 27 precisely to avoid a vaccines war between EU countries, but maybe the UK wants to start a vaccine war?

“Solidarity is an important principle of the EU. With Brexit, it’s clear that the UK doesn’t want to show solidarity with anyone.”

Vaccine approval awaited

The European Medicines Agency is expected to grant approval to the AstraZeneca vaccine later, with an announcement due at 14:00 GMT.

The regulator’s decision is keenly awaited, in part to see whether or not it will approve the jab for use in over-65s. 

Germany’s vaccine commission decided against doing so on Tuesday, saying there was not enough data from that age group.

AstraZeneca and the UK regulators, the MHRA, have said they are confident the jab provides protection in all age groups.

Supplies run low in Europe

Vaccinations in parts of Europe are already being held up and in some cases halted because of a cut in deliveries of the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine:

  • In Spain, Madrid and the northern Cantabria region have halted first vaccinations to focus on second doses for at least two weeks.
  • Regional health authorities in France are delaying vaccination appointments. More than 1.1 million people have received a jab so far
  • Vienna’s city councillor for health says delivery problems are leading to delays in vaccinations by up to two weeks. “We are really operating in a dramatic form of shortage economy,” said Peter Hacker
  • The Dutch government was the last in the EU to start a vaccination programme and by the end of January the Netherlands will have had no more than 757,000 doses, mainly from Pfizer. It initially based its strategy on the assumption the AstraZeneca vaccine would be available first
  • The head of Croatia’s public health institute says Pfizer has reduced the number of doses for the next three shipments and all the doses in Croatia are now being kept for second shots
Chart showing the number of vaccines administered per 100 people in EU countries

Coronavirus: EU demands UK-made AstraZeneca vaccine doses

The EU has urged pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca to supply it with more doses of its Covid-19 vaccine from UK plants, amid a row over shortages.

Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the company was wrong to say its agreement with the EU was non-binding. 

She said UK factories, which have not experienced production problems, were part of the deal and had to deliver.

AstraZeneca reportedly said last week the EU would get 60% fewer doses than promised in the first quarter of 2021.

It cited production issues at a Belgian plant.

In an interview on Tuesday with Italian newspaper La Repubblica, CEO Pascal Soriot said the contract compelled it to make its “best effort”, rather than obliging it to meet a set deadline.

Ms Kyriakides said this characterisation of the deal was “not correct or acceptable”, and called on the company to be “open and transparent” about its production of vaccines.

A confidentiality clause binds AstraZeneca from releasing the details of its deal with the bloc.

The two sides are set to meet later for talks. 

Earlier on Wednesday, an EU official said that AstraZeneca had pulled out of the meeting, but the company has since insisted it will attend. 

Pfizer/BioNTech, which has an even bigger vaccine-production deal with the EU, is also experiencing delays. 

French drug maker Sanofi has announced that it will help produce 125 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab by the end of the year.

The company will allow Germany-based BioNTech to use its facilities in Frankfurt from July, Sanofi said in a statement, having delayed the development of its own vaccine. 

Pfizer says its agreement with Sanofi is just one of several efforts it is making to increase supply by expanding manufacturing facilities, and adding suppliers and contract manufacturers to its supply chain.

What are the supply problems?

The EU signed a deal with AstraZeneca in August for 300 million doses, with an option for 100 million more, but the company has reported a production delays at two plants, one in the Netherlands and one in Belgium.

Mr Soriot said production was “basically two months behind where we wanted to be”.

Italy was among the countries threatening to sue over the delays.

The Anglo-Swedish company says it has been able to meet a separate deal with the UK because it was signed three months earlier. 

The AstraZeneca vaccine has not yet been approved by the EU, although the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is expected to give it the green light at the end of this month.

The EU had hoped that, as soon as approval was given, delivery would start straight away, with some 80 million doses arriving in the 27 nations by March.

Officials have not confirmed publicly how big the shortfall will be, but Reuters news agency reported that deliveries would be reduced to 31 million – a cut of 60% – in the first quarter of this year.

The EU has also ordered 600 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, but the company was not able to supply the 12.5 million vaccines it promised the EU by the end of 2020.

Pfizer said last week it was delaying shipments for the next few weeks because of work to increase capacity at its Belgian processing plant.

The EU has threatened to restrict the exports of vaccines made within the bloc to deal with the shortfall.

The head of BioNTech, Uğur Şahin, in an interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, explained the delay by saying the EU had wrongly assumed that several vaccines would be ready at once and therefore spread its orders. He also said his company was ramping up its manufacturing capacity.

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Analysis box by Nick Beake, Brussels correspondent

The EU is desperate to boost its stuttering vaccination programme but there is no quick fix. Wednesday’s Sanofi-Pfizer deal doesn’t help in the short term.

Germany is urging Brussels to allow members states to block exports of EU-made jabs – to ensure that the continent gets its “fair share”.

But the EU trade commissioner, Valdis Dombrovskis, suggests it’s better, for now, to ask companies to provide more information about where they were sending jabs – rather than blocking them.

This row with AstraZeneca is over a vaccine that the EU is yet to approve. That is likely to happen at the end of the week, but there are signs it may not be approved for the over 65s because of a perceived lack of efficacy testing within this age group.

The challenge for the EU is to make sure any such decision doesn’t look like retaliation amid this increasingly bitter argument.

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Which other vaccines is the EU buying?

The European Commission says it has reached agreements with four other pharmaceutical companies to purchase hundreds of millions of vaccines, once they pass clinical trials:

  • Sanofi-GSK: 300 million doses
  • Johnson & Johnson: 400 million doses
  • CureVac: 405 million doses
  • Moderna: 160 million doses

The Commission also concluded initial talks with another company, Novavax, for up to 200 million doses.

What about the UK? 

The UK did not take part in the EU vaccine scheme although it could have done until the end of 2020, while it was still in the Brexit transition period. 

At the time, the government said it was opting out because it felt it wouldn’t be allowed to continue its own negotiations with potential suppliers and wouldn’t have a say on the price, volume and date of possible deliveries.

The UK was the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine (and rolled it out several weeks before the EU). 

The UK has also approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and the Moderna vaccine.

Italian PM: Giuseppe Conte vows to take legal action against Pfizer and AstraZeneca

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte says a delay in the supply of coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca is “unacceptable”.

Both companies have warned they will not be able to deliver vaccines to the EU as agreed due to production issues.

Mr Conte has accused them of serious contract violations.

A senior Italian health official has warned that the country will have to rethink its vaccination programme if supply issues continue.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, developed by Oxford University, has not yet been given EU approval; however the bloc’s drug regulator is expected to give it the green light at the end of this month.

A spokesman for AstraZeneca said on Friday that “initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated” without giving further details.

Officials have not confirmed publicly how big the shortfall will be, but an unnamed EU official told Reuters news agency that deliveries would be reduced to 31m – a cut of 60% – in the first quarter of this year.

The drug firm had been set to deliver about 80m doses to the 27 nations by March, according to the official who spoke to Reuters. 

Last week Pfizer announced it was slowing supplies to Europe to make manufacturing changes that will boost capacity. The EU has ordered 600 million doses from Pfizer. 

On Saturday, Mr Conte wrote on Facebook: “Our vaccination plan … has been drawn up on the basis of contractual pledges freely undertaken by pharmaceutical companies with the European Commission.”

“Such delays in deliveries represent serious contractual violations, which cause enormous damage to Italy and other countries,” he added.

Italy’s Health Minister Franco Locatelli said Pfizer deliveries were 29% lower than planned this week but the levels were expected to return to those agreed by 1 February.

Mr Conte vowed to use “all available legal tools”.

Poland has also vowed to take action over the delay.

What is happening elsewhere in Europe?

Austrian media have reported that only 600,000 of 2m AstraZeneca doses promised by the end of March will arrive in the country on time, with the remaining 1.4m now being delivered in April.

A delay would be “completely unacceptable”, Austrian Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said on Friday.

View original tweet on Twitter

Hungary’s government, which has complained over the time it is taking EU regulators to approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, has reached a deal with Russia to buy up large quantities of its Sputnik V vaccine, even though it has not received EU approval.

European Council President Charles Michel, who led a call with EU leaders this week, said on Thursday that officials were considering all ideas to try and stop future vaccine delays.

“All possible means will be examined to ensure rapid supply, including early distribution to avoid delays,” he said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Mr Michel both say they are still aiming for the target of 70% of the EU population being vaccinated by summer.

There has been criticism and frustration across the region about the speed of vaccination roll-outs.

Israel, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, and the US are all well ahead of EU nations in terms of doses given per capita so far.

Vaccination does by population graphic

The European Commission has co-ordinated orders for all member states, with vaccines then distributed based on their population size.

Vaccines are seen by public health experts as an important part of a route out of the Covid-19 crisis, with many European nations struggling to cope with a deadly surge of the virus over the winter period.

Borders to remain open

The total number of German Covid-19 deaths climbed above 50,000 on Friday – a day after the country warned that it could close its borders if other EU countries were less strict in controlling the virus. Berlin sounded the alarm amid rising concern about new variants.

EU leaders agreed late on Thursday to keep their internal borders open but warned non-essential travel might need to be restricted to curb the spread of the virus.

Ms von der Leyen said Thursday that more testing and “targeted measures” were needed throughout the EU in order to keep internal and external borders open. 

For its part, France said it would impose tighter travel restrictions for European arrivals from Sunday, requiring a negative PCR Covid test within three days of travel.

In the Netherlands, a ban on all flights from the UK, South Africa and South American countries came into effect on Saturday to try and prevent new coronavirus variants gaining a foothold.

Looking ahead to the future, officials from EU nations reliant on tourism – including Spain and Greece – have floated the possibility of using vaccination certificates to allow for cross-border travel but there has been scepticism within the bloc.