UK mulls joining EU coronavirus vaccines strategy

The UK is considering whether to take part in an EU plan to secure supplies of potential vaccines against COVID-19. "Work is ongoing to determine whether and how the UK participates in the EU Vaccines Strategy," the UK's Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) stated Friday.

Meanwhile, an EU spokesperson said "we have reached out to the UK, inviting them to express their interest if they want to participate in the joint EU approach established by the vaccine strategy."

A senior UK government official indicated that there had been some "back and forth" on the issue as the BEIS department juggles the political ramifications of joining, or staying out of, the EU scheme. "The EU has set an 'end of the week' deadline, for about the last three weeks, but it keeps coming and going," the source said, adding that "ultimately, the decision will get made in Number 10." Alok Sharma, the UK's business secretary, whose department runs the government's vaccines task force, will consider the decision over the July 4 weekend, according to officials cited in the Financial Times.

In June, EU health ministers gave the European Commission a mandate to negotiate advance purchases of hundreds of millions of doses of promising COVID-19 vaccines, using a €2.4-billion ($2.7 billion) emergency fund to make the acquisitions.

The move came after France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands decided to form what they have dubbed an "inclusive vaccine alliance" in a bid to accelerate production of a COVID-19 vaccine "on European soil." The group recently struck a deal with AstraZeneca to supply up to 400 million doses of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine being developed with the University of Oxford, a deal that officials say is being folded into the bloc's wider effort. AstraZeneca has also agreed to supply 100 million doses of the AZD1222 vaccine to the UK. Meanwhile, the EU is also in talks with Johnson & Johnson for a COVID-19 vaccine.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said she is looking to have "a significant number" of world leaders join forces to buy vaccines up front together, as competition for a vaccine could otherwise raise the cost for everyone. The EU has warned that some sort of joint procurement strategy is necessary following similar deals struck by the US, including another one involving AstraZeneca, this time worth as much as $1.2 billion, to secure at least 300 million doses of its potential COVID-19 vaccine.

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