French journalist sparks debate after labelling UK's Covid vaccine success 'an illusion'

Nurse Pat Sugden prepares a vaccine at the Thackray Museum of Medicine in Leeds

Nurse Pat Sugden prepares a vaccine at the Thackray Museum of Medicine in Leeds - Credit: PA

A French journalist has called into question Britain's vaccine strategy after pointing out the UK lagged behind the EU in fully immunizing its population.

Writing in the Guardian, Jean Quatremer, of the French newspaper Libération, said the reality of the UK's vaccine drive was "a little more complex - and not quite such a stunning UK victory".

He wrote: "True, Britain got a month’s head start on the EU by approving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the start of December, and then AstraZeneca’s at the end of that month. It had to accept the terms offered by the pharmaceutical companies, however, both in paying a higher price per dose, and by waiving their civil liability in the event of adverse effects."

Quatremer said there were questions to be asked about UK's vaccine strategy of inoculating as many people as possible with one dose of the vaccine before offering the second 12 weeks later.

"The UK’s 'success' is really an illusion: because to be fully effective, the vaccine requires two doses. And only 0.80% of the UK population has received both shots, less than that of France (0.92%), and a long way behind Denmark, which has 2.87% of its population fully vaccinated.

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"Above all, extending the time lag between first and the second doses, as the UK has done, potentially carries risks.

"So Brexit Britain’s triumph doesn’t seem quite so striking, even if the logistics of the rollout – which are handled by national health ministries and have no EU involvement – are more efficient in the UK than in most European countries."

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Quatremer also praised EU's joint strategy on vaccines for providing greater safeguards for the public, ensuring companies owned production lines in EU territory, and for producing jabs at a reasonable price - conditions which the journalist argues were not imposed by the US, UK, Canada or Isreal.

He also said the EU was doing more than the UK to ensure vaccines were made available to poorer countries.

"Solidarity is one of the great virtues of the European Union and it has implemented it without complaint, not only among its citizens but also with regard to the rest of the world," he wrote.

"African countries in particular will benefit from the surplus jabs ordered by the EU. And this is a well thought out solidarity, by the way, since only vaccinating Europe’s population makes no sense in a globalised world."

The article comes as a row over how to administer the vaccines continues to heat up.

Earlier this month, French president Emanuel Marcon questioned the UK's strategy of giving over-65s access to the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab after claiming it had little efficacy for that age group - a remark echoed by a German newspaper.

Just last month, the EU Commission had threatened to impose a ban on vaccines produced in the EU from being exported to Britain but was forced to climb down after worries the move could jeopardise peace and stability in Northern Ireland.

Taking to Twitter, Alastair Thompson wrote: "This article is trash. First, it says 'you need two vaccines to be fully effective' - but it doesn't mention anywhere the WHO (World Health Organisation) endorsed the strategy of delaying the second, or 90% of the effectiveness comes from the first."

David Goodhart posted: "This is a lovely example of what is called motivated reasoning, maybe clutching at straws is more accurate."

Greg Wynne added: "Even Guy Verhofstadt, the federalist's federalist, has admitted the EU got this wrong. Can we not just be happy the UK did well?"

Others defended the article. Rhys Bucknall-Williams, a communications manager, wrote: "In the race for COVID vaccines, yes, the UK won the sprint. But the EU may yet win the marathon."

Max Bailey added: "We will see after the pandemic who came out best."

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