France has been accused of ‘stealing’ 5 million vaccine doses bound for the UK earlier this year.
The incident is said to have occurred amid the EU’s faltering vaccine rollout and at a time when countries including France were questioning the safety of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.
But it appears that the huge batch of Oxford vaccines from the Netherlands and due to arrive in the UK was diverted at the last minute and never arrived.
One government source branded the actions ‘outrageous’ and said it had the potential to cost lives.
The incident sparked ‘blazing rows’ between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron, according to a report in The Sun.
AstraZeneca boss Ruud Dobber had said on March 22 that the batch was expected to arrive in Britain imminently from its Halix site.
But the jabs appear to have instead gone to the EU scheme, with the organisation blocking its transfer to the UK, amid increasing tensions over jab supplies and fears of ‘vaccines wars’.
Looking back on the incident, one government source told The Sun: ‘The French stole our vaccines at the same time as they were slagging them off in public and suggesting they weren’t safe to use.’
Mr Macron was one of a number of key EU figures to publicly question the jab and incorrectly branded it ‘quasi-ineffective’.
The source continued: ‘It was an outrageous thing to do and not the action of an ally, which was made very clear to them.’
‘Withholding vaccines by stopping them leaving the EU had the potential to cost lives with people waiting for both first and second jabs.
‘We had a solid vaccine plan in place and this meant we were able to keep on jabbing. But it was an astonishing, outrageous thing to do.’
The row earlier this year plunged relations between the EU and the UK to new lows – and followed the UK’s official departure from the EU.
At the time of the spat, one EU diplomat was quoted as saying: ‘AstraZeneca has made promises to both the UK and the EU that it cannot fulfil. So there will need to be some sort of deal.
‘But it’s worth remembering that these Halix doses are in the EU, and AstraZeneca needs permission to ship any of them to the UK, so the cards are stacked against the UK.’
The EU has insisted that the way it handled its vaccine rollout was and is fair, while many developing nations have been accused of ‘vaccine nationalism’ for prioritising less at risk people from their own countries over those more in need abroad.