LONDON (Reuters) – Britain cannot publish details of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine supply contract because it would jeopardize national security, a junior minister said on Friday, as the European Union threatened drug companies over supply delays.
Europe’s fight to secure vaccines intensified on Thursday when the EU warned drug companies that it would use all legal means or even block exports unless they agreed to deliver shots as promised.
Scotland will publish COVID-19 detailed vaccine supply data next week even though the British government has refused to do so.
British prisons minister Lucy Frazer said the government had been transparent with data but could not publish supply details for national security reasons which she repeatedly refused to specify.
“My understanding is it risks national security,” Frazer, a former barrister, told LBC radio, when asked why the data had not been published. She refused to say how publication of such data could hurt national security.
The swiftest mass vaccination drive in history is stoking tensions across the world as big powers buy up doses in bulk and poorer nations try to navigate a financial and diplomatic minefield to collect whatever supplies are left.
Israel is by far the world leader on vaccine rollout per head of population, followed by the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Bahrain and the United States. Behind them are Italy, Germany, France, China and Russia.
The United Kingdom has secured 367 million doses of the seven most promising vaccines, including 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine which was developed by Oxford University.
Kate Bingham, the former head of the UK’s vaccine taskforce, said the country had been able to secure supplies by supporting pharmaceutical companies, setting up clinical trials quickly and helping firms procure equipment to scale up manufacturing.
She declined to comment on the detail of the contract with AstraZeneca, but said that the UK had benefited from early work to be ready to make vaccines.
“That is ultimately the difference as to why we’re so far ahead on manufacturing,” Bingham said, adding that she did not expect the EU to block vaccine exports to the UK.
The EU’s contract with AstraZeneca for its COVID-19 vaccine contains binding orders, EU Commision Head Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday, demanding a plausible explanation from the drugmaker for delivery hold-ups.
“I think we’ll just go back to publishing the actual supply figures from next week, so that we all have transparency around that,” Sturgeon told the Scottish parliament on Thursday.