LONDON/BRUSSELS – The UK government has rejected the chance to join the European Union’s coronavirus vaccine program due to concerns over “costly delays”, according to sources. The EU is planning to spend around €2bln (£1.8bln) on the advance purchase of vaccines that are undergoing testing on behalf of the 27 member states.
Negotiations with Brussels have been ongoing but Alok Sharma, the business secretary, is believed to have opted out of the opportunity, according to The Daily Telegraph. The European Commission is expected to be notified of on Friday. The decision not to participate is expected to provoke a backlash among opposition MPs, who believe that ministers are reluctant to collaborate with the EU on projects after Brexit.
Government sources told the newspaper that officials fear signing up to the scheme could delay the rollout of a vaccine by up to six months while talks on distribution took place. They also raised concerns that countries which opted in would be subject to a cap on the number of doses allocated to each member state.
“The terms just weren’t right for us. The EU scheme wouldn’t allow the UK to do anything more than it currently is,” one source said.
Another source said the decision would “not damage the efforts” being undertaken by the government’s Vaccines Taskforce, which is coordinating efforts to research and produce a safe vaccine.
Officials also told the newspaper that the benefits of the EU program are “limited” as most pharmaceutical companies are offering the UK similar prices to other countries despite the bloc stating that “collective purchasing power” will enable potential economies of scale.
The UK has already secured a bilateral deal with AstraZeneca in partnership with Oxford University, but there are fears that some initial vaccines may not be effective and the UK reserves the right to be involved in all projects in the EU’s 2020 budget.
The Oxford and AstraZeneca alliance – which, if successful, will mean the UK becoming the first recipient of the vaccine – began phase two of human trials in May. Boris Johnson was criticized over the failure to join the EU’s ventilator and PPE procurement schemes in March, which was blamed by Downing Street on “an initial communication problem”.