LONDON (Reuters) - Britain has turned down the chance to join a 2.4 billion euro ($2.7 billion) European Union plan to secure advance purchases of promising COVID-19 vaccines, saying the EU would not allow it any role in decision-making.
“The UK government has decided on this occasion not to join this internal EU initiative, but given our shared interest in ensuring that vaccines are available to all, we are committed to strengthening our collaboration with the EU outside the framework,” Britain’s ambassador to the EU, Tim Barrow, said.
Before making its decision, it had assessed whether the advantages of the European bloc’s bargaining power to strike deals with international drug companies would outweigh the fact that Britain would have little control over strategy.
With the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe, Britain is struggling to reopen its economy and will end a status quo transition period with the EU at the end of this year.
Earlier this year, Britain failed to join an EU procurement programme for ventilators due to what officials described as a communications issue.
Barrow said joining the EU scheme would have required Britain to end its own talks with manufacturers, and it would have been given no voice over “which manufacturers to negotiate with, or the price, volume and delivery schedule negotiated”.
With a global death toll of more than 550,000 and a virus that is still on the march, leading governments are locked in an race to secure supplies of vaccines in a desperate attempt to get their economies working again.
Britain has already struck a deal to secure 100 million doses of an experimental vaccine that has been developed by the University of Oxford and licensed to British drugmaker AstraZeneca.
Media reports suggest it has also held talks with GSK and Sanofi over a supply deal.
The talks with the EU had represented a test of whether the two parties could work together to tackle international emergencies after Brexit. The EU said prior to the announcement that a decision by Britain to reject the scheme would not affect talks it was having with drugmakers.
Under the EU plan, the bloc wants to buy or commit to buy promising vaccines before they are ready, taking the risk of potential clinical failures. In exchange, it would get priority access to the shots.
Additional reporting by William Schomberg and David Milliken; editing by Stephen Addison