09:10 GMT25 February 2021
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    Shortages of COVID-19 vaccines in continental Europe put Brussels on a collision course with London after the bloc introduced export controls on vaccines headed for the island nation.

    European Union officials have "reassured" Britain that Brussels "has no desire to block suppliers fulfilling contracts for vaccine distribution to the UK," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted, indicating that he had a "constructive conversation" on the matter with European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis on Saturday.

    Raab's remarks come in the wake of Brussels' move to introduce export controls on COVID-19 vaccines, which threatens to affect supplies in countries including the UK, US, Canada, and Australia. British officials have slammed the decision, with former Brexit minister David Jones dubbing the spat as a "vaccine war" between the UK and a "Mafia-like" EU, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressing "grave concerns" about the possible impact of the bloc's decision on his country's vaccination programme.

    The controls briefly included the de facto introduction of border checks on the frontier between Ireland and Northern Ireland to prevent vaccine shipments from entering the UK proper through this potential "backdoor," with that situation causing London, Dublin, and Belfast to accuse Brussels of undermining the Irish Protocols – a key ingredient of the Brexit trade deal. The EU backtracked on the Irish border vaccine controls on Friday, amending its export controls measures.

    Britain has dramatically outpaced the EU in the speed of its vaccination programme, kicking it off in December, and making plans to jab all British adults with at least one dose of the vaccine by autumn. Along with AstraZeneca/Oxford's vaccine, Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines have been approved for emergency use in the country, with two more preparations undergoing third phase clinical trials. Over seven million Britons have already received a first dose - with the NHS programme estimated to be five times faster than that of continental Europe amid production delays at European pharma factories.

    All three vaccines have faced varying degrees of criticism over issues ranging from worse-than-advertised effectiveness to complications running the gamut from temporary facial paralysis to death among small numbers of people taking them, as well as concerns in some corners about their long-term impact as the virus continues to mutate.

    Earlier this month, Le Monde revealed the degree of pressure that EU authorities put on the bloc's medicines watchdog to get the Pfizer vaccine approved despite a range of concerns about its quality and safety. UK and US regulators were more lax than their European counterparts to begin with, according to the report.

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