British PM seeks to dispel public fears around AstraZeneca

Johnson to get first dose of vaccine as Serum Institute of India triggers delay in delivery

Boris Johnson has sought to reassure the British public about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine and the security of supplies following a delay in delivering five million doses from India. Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, the prime minister said he would receive the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday.

"The Oxford jab is safe and the Pfizer jab is safe – the thing that isn't safe is catching Covid – which is why it's so important that we all get our jabs as soon as our turn comes.And as it happens, I'm getting mine tomorrow. And the centre where I'm getting jabbed is currently using the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for those receiving their first dose, and that is the one I'll be having," he said.

Mr Johnson was speaking shortly after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said the vaccine was "safe and effective". Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said there were anecdotal reports of small numbers of people not showing up for vaccination appointments in Britain after a number of European countries suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Record numbers

“Actually, almost record numbers have been going through in terms of numbers of people taking up the vaccine. Overall, there is no evidence of a significant problem that people do not want vaccination,” he said.


Britain is on course to offer a first vaccination dose to everyone over 50 by April 15th but the government said this week that people under 50 will not receive a vaccination until May. Available vaccine supplies will instead be used to ensure that everyone who has received one dose will be given their second within 12 weeks of their first.

Health secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that the delay was due to the postponement of a delivery of AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII).

‘Committed to targets’

“We have committed to targets, it is vital to say, to offer the vaccine to everyone aged 50 and over by April 15th and to all adults by the end of July. I can confirm that we are on track to meet both those targets. I also want to clear up some rumours that have been circulating and give people reassurance. There will be no weeks in April with no first doses. There will be no cancelled appointments as a result of supply issues. Second doses will go ahead as planned,” he said.

Britain was due to receive five million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the SII, the second part of an order of 10 million from the institute. But the SII's chief executive, Adar Poonawall, said it had not specified a date when the shipment would be delivered and that the Indian government had blocked it to ensure there would be sufficient domestic supply.

Mr Hancock said a further 1.7 million doses were held up because they had to be retested for their stability but he did not specify which vaccine was affected.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times