Europe dithers over AstraZeneca jab safety as number of vaccinated Brits reaches 25million

THE number of Brits inoculated against Covid will surge past 25 million today — as the stuttering EU rollout faces disaster.

Boris Johnson, 56, is set to receive his first immunisation tomorrow or Friday with his spokesman insisting that the PM is “perfectly happy” to get the UK-made Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

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By the weekend, one in two in this country are expected to have been protected against the virus as the immunisation blitz ramps up.

But 18 European nations have now paused use of the Oxford vaccine over unsubstantiated reports it triggers blood clots.

It comes as French officials let slip they had coordinated suspending the immunisation on Monday with Germany, Italy, and Spain.

The others who have wholly or partly suspended the vaccine’s use are Portugal, Sweden, Ireland, Denmark, Romania, Latvia, Austria, Lithuania, Estonia, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Slovenia and Bulgaria.

But some states attacked fellow EU members, accusing them of a making an irresponsible decision to suspend its use.

Leading Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst stated: “The side-effects of stopping AZ vaccination are hospitalisations, long-term organ damage, and death.”

Poland accused some EU countries of a “planned disinformation campaign” against the UK-based company for commercial reasons.

And Nicola Magrini, head of Italy’s medicines authority, claimed the decision by countries, including his own, was political.

EU regulators again dismissed safety fears, saying “at present there is no indication vaccination has caused these conditions”.

Both the UK watchdog and the World Health Organisation have also slapped down concerns.

The European Medicines Agency is conducting a review of the vaccine and will report tomorrow.

But boss Emer Cooke was keen to stress experts “remain convinced the benefits of this vaccine outweigh the risk”.

She also admitted rates of reported blood clots were similar for other approved vaccines.

UK data shows just 30 people reported suffering blood clots out of the first 9.7 million Oxford doses — lower than rates in the general public.

In comparison, 38 cases were flagged among the 11.5 million Pfizer jabs.

Prof Peter Openshaw, from Imperial College London, said: “It is a completely one-sided argument statistically that we need to be vaccinating. It is a disaster for the vaccination uptake in Europe.”

The UK has already offered first doses to 24.8 million adults. Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed the vaccination programme as a “national success story”.

He added: “There is no evidence that vaccines caused these clots.”

And Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab came out swinging by saying: “Different countries have different approaches but I can tell you crystal clear the UK regulator, the EU regulator, and the WHO all say the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and people should continue to take it.”

British politicians last night also attacked the move by EU countries to suspend the AZ jab.

Tory MP Mark Francois said: “What is regrettable is some senior EU politicians are putting the defence of the faltering European Project before lives of citizens. History may not judge them kindly.”

Europe is embroiled in an increasingly bitter civil war over the fiasco, with a mad scramble to shift the blame.

Brussels’ health chief Stella Kyriakides insisted Eurocrats were not at fault and ripped into members for sitting on vaccine stockpiles.

With the bloc facing a devastating third wave of the virus, she fumed: “There are reports of unused reservoirs of vaccines across the EU.

“Every dose is providing a protective shield for our health workers, our elderly or our vulnerable groups.”

European countries have received 14.9 million AZ vaccines, of which they have used just 7.3 million.

Germany under Chancellor Angela Merkel and France under President Emmanuel Macron are among the worst offenders.

It comes as France’s Europe minister, Clement Beaune, a close ally of Mr Macron, also said Paris could push the EU to sue AZ for under-delivering on its contract.

He said: “Europe is not some sort of cuddly ‘care bear’ that hands over its money and expects nothing in return.”

But Brits are ignoring the row over the Oxford vaccine.

A stream of people headed into the Centre for Life in Newcastle — with parents Tom and Kristine Thwaites having the vaccination early as they work in the medical profession.

Call handler Tom, 37, of Hexham, Northumberland, said: “I have no worries. I’m delighted to have had it. It’s clear benefits outweigh risks.”

Nurse Kristine, 34, added: “I feel safer already.” Data from the Office for National Statistics shows 75.7 per cent of Brits over 80 had antibodies against Covid by early March.

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