The Telegraph 2024-05-08 10:00:34


AstraZeneca withdrawing Covid vaccine worldwide

The Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine is being withdrawn worldwide, months after the pharmaceutical giant admitted for the first time in court documents that it can cause a rare and dangerous side effect.

The vaccine can no longer be used in the European Union after the company voluntarily withdrew its “marketing authorisation”. The application to withdraw the vaccine was made on March 5 and came into effect on Tuesday.

Similar applications will be made in the coming months in the UK and in other countries that had approved the vaccine, known as Vaxzevria.

The decision to withdraw it brings to an end the use of the jab, which was heralded by Boris Johnson as a “triumph for British science” and credited with saving more than six million lives.

AstraZeneca said the vaccine was being removed from markets for commercial reasons. It said the vaccine was no longer being manufactured or supplied, having been superseded by updated vaccines that tackle new variants. 

Vaxzevria has come under intense scrutiny in recent months over a very rare side effect, which causes blood clots and low blood platelet counts. AstraZeneca admitted in court documents lodged with the High Court in February that the vaccine “can, in very rare cases, cause TTS”.

TTS – which stands for Thrombosis with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome – has been linked to at least 81 deaths in the UK as well as hundreds of serious injuries. AstraZeneca is being sued by more than 50 alleged victims and grieving relatives in a High Court case.

But AstraZeneca has insisted the decision to withdraw the vaccine is not linked to the court case or its admission that it can cause TTS. It said the timing was pure coincidence.

In a statement the company said: “We are incredibly proud of the role Vaxzevria played in ending the global pandemic. According to independent estimates, over 6.5 million lives were saved in the first year of use alone and over three billion doses were supplied globally.

“Our efforts have been recognised by governments around the world and are widely regarded as being a critical component of ending the global pandemic.

“As multiple, variant Covid-19 vaccines have since been developed, there is a surplus of available updated vaccines. This has led to a decline in demand for Vaxzevria, which is no longer being manufactured or supplied. AstraZeneca has therefore taken the decision to initiate withdrawal of the marketing authorisations for Vaxzevria within Europe.

“We will now work with regulators and our partners to align on a clear path forward to conclude this chapter and significant contribution to the Covid-19 pandemic.” 

The Telegraph has been told that the company will withdraw marketing authorisations in other countries, including the UK, where it has regulatory approval. AstraZeneca never had approval for the vaccine to be used in the US.

The company said: “We will partner with regulatory authorities globally to initiate marketing authorisation withdrawals for Vaxzevria, where no future commercial demand for the vaccine is expected.”

The Government largely stopped using the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine by the autumn of 2021, by which time it had supplied about 50 million doses in the UK. It was replaced in the UK with Pfizer and Moderna jabs in time for the winter booster campaign at the end of 2021.

Marco Cavaleri, head of vaccines at the European Medicines Agency, the body which is responsible for drug and medicine safety within the EU, told Italian media: “The authorisation of the anti-Covid vaccine Vaxzevria by AstraZeneca will be withdrawn and the process has already officially started with the European Commission. This is in line with the expectations that no-longer-used and updated vaccines will be withdrawn, as per our indication.”

Mr Cavaleri said he expected all the “monovalent” vaccines – which dealt only with the original Wuhan strain – to be withdrawn in time.

AstraZeneca accepted the vaccine can cause TTS in a legal document in February this year. The causal mechanism is not known. 

Lawyers for claimants in the High Court case argue that the drug caused vaccine-induced immune thrombocytopenia and thrombosis (VITT) – a subset of TTS – and that it was not as safe as individuals were entitled to expect. AstraZeneca has always insisted that “patient safety is our highest priority”.

The company has said: “From the body of evidence in clinical trials and real-world data, the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine has continuously been shown to have an acceptable safety profile and regulators around the world consistently state that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks of extremely rare potential side effects.”

But Kate Scott, whose husband Jamie was left with a permanent brain injury after having the vaccine and who was the first person in the UK to bring a legal action, said: “AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine no longer being used in the UK or Europe, and soon the rest of the world, means no one else will suffer from this awful adverse reaction. 

“They say it is for commercial reasons, but maybe it’s because it can no longer be seen as being within the acceptable safety parameters, with 445 confirmed cases of VITT, 81 of these fatal in the UK alone.”

Mr Scott, 47, a father of two who has had to give up work, said: “This is good news, but I will always wish they had, like they did in other countries, paused it in the UK after just one case. More lives could have been saved and I would not be suffering the way I am.”

Sarah Moore, a partner at law firm Leigh Day, which is bringing the legal claims, said: “To those who we represent, all of whom have suffered bereavement or serious injury as a result of the AstraZeneca vaccine, this decision to withdraw marketing authorisation, ending the usage of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the EU, will be welcomed.

“It will be seen as a decision linked with AstraZeneca’s recent admission that the vaccine can cause TTS, and the fact that regulators across the world suspended or stopped usage of the vaccine following concerns regarding TTS.

“This is an important regulatory step, but still our clients remain without fair compensation. We will continue to fight for the compensation our clients need and campaign for reform of the vaccine damage payment scheme.”

The scheme, run by the Government, has paid out to victims. But it has been branded inadequate, prompting them to bring separate civil claims against AstraZeneca, which the drugs firm is contesting.

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Live Biden paused bomb shipments to Israel over Rafah concerns

Joe Biden paused a shipment of bombs to Israel last week over fears it would invade the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Washington halted the load of 1,800 2,000-lb (907 kg) bombs and 1,700 500-lb (226 kg) bombs after Israel had not “fully addressed” US concerns about a major ground operation, marking the first time in the conflict that Mr Biden has halted military aid.

News of the move comes as the White House criticised the “unacceptable” closure of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt after Israel sent tanks in earlier Tuesday – while holding out hope for a ceasefire with Hamas.

Officials said Washington was “especially focused” on the use of the heaviest 2,000-lb bombs “and the impact they could have in dense urban settings as we have seen in other parts of Gaza.”

Ceasefire talks involving Israel, Hamas, the United States, Qatar and Egypt resumed on Tuesday.

“A close assessment of the two sides’ positions suggests that they should be able to close the remaining gaps, and we’re going to do everything we can to support that process,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

Follow the latest updates below

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Travel chaos at Heathrow and major UK airports over Border Force issue

Thousands of passengers were stranded at Britain’s busiest airports on Tuesday night as the e-gate system failed.

Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester airports were thrown into chaos as the technology suffered a nationwide fault, leaving passengers facing queues of two hours as they returned from extended Bank holiday breaks.

It is the second time the e-gates have failed in two weeks, raising questions over the reliability of the system which is designed to speed up passengers through passport checks.

There was no evidence to link the border chaos to a cyber attack, but it came just a day after the armed forces payroll system was hacked by a suspected “state actor”.

The gates are understood to have failed at 8pm on Tuesday night just as thousands of passengers landed on early evening planes.

A Home Office spokesman said the e-gates were restored four hours later, shortly after midnight.

“As soon as engineers detected a wider system network issue at 7.44pm last night, a large scale contingency response was activated within six minutes,” the spokesman said.

“At no point was border security compromised and there is no indication of malicious cyber activity.

“We apologise to travellers caught up in disruption and thank our partners, including airlines for their co-operation and support.” 

The main Border Force security database – called “Border Crossing” which was introduced just under three years ago at a cost of £372 million – appeared to have suffered a complete shutdown.

Thousands of arrivals at Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, were delayed, with passengers waiting in queues for up to two hours. There were also long delays at Stansted, Manchester and Edinburgh airports, and delays of 90 minutes were reported at Gatwick.

Passenger Nathan Lane posted on X: “The entire Egate immigration system at Heathrow Airport is down at all terminals. Now all the systems at the desks are too. Brits and foreigners alike. Nobody is getting through. This is management yelling updates at everyone.”

Richard Gaisford posted on the social media site: “E-gates down at LHR T3, and seemingly across Heathrow Airport. Border Force suggests to passengers it might be a nationwide outage.”

Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London, who was among those queuing at Heathrow, said: “You see how high-capacity the system normally is by how rapidly things turn to chaos when it breaks; plane after plane of people pouring in and backing up in the corridor.”

There were indications that planes may have been delayed and stacked up in the air to prevent increasing the pressure on queues of passengers waiting to have their documents manually processed by Border Force officers.

Dominic Baliszewski, co-founder of a PR company, said: “Apparently Heathrow isn’t letting planes land and doesn’t have a real plan. E-gates down and they’re processing everyone manually through one gate. This is only a small portion of the queue. Almost no staff on hand.”

At Bournemouth airport, Border Force staff were reported to have resorted to laptops to process passports. Richard Heading, a passenger, reported on X: “All systems are down and they are using laptops to check passports. There are moderate delays.”

A spokesman for Heathrow airport said: “Border Force is currently experiencing a nationwide issue which is impacting passengers being processed through the border.

“Our teams are supporting [them] with their contingency plans to help resolve the problem as quickly as possible and are on hand to provide passenger welfare. We apologise for any impact this is having to passenger journeys.”

There are more than 270 e-gates in place at 15 airports and train stations in the UK that were all understood to have failed. The cause of the issue was unclear. The Home Office apologised last month following the failure on April 25, which it blamed on a “technical issue”.

E-gates usually process the vast majority of passengers, including children aged ten and over, arriving in the UK. They were originally restricted to British and EU arrivals.

However, their use has been extended over the years to include arrivals from Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and the US.

E-gates have repeatedly failed

The e-gates have failed on a number of occasions in the past three years. The whole system collapsed at the start of the late May bank holiday weekend in 2023 because of a failed system upgrade, resulting in four-hour queues at airports. In 2021 technical issues caused the gates to fail three times in two months.

An aviation source said: “It is underinvestment again – the system falls over at peak periods. The last major outage like this was the same weekend last year – the Coronation weekend.”

The apparent collapse of the system will raise questions over Border Force’s ambition to create an “intelligent border” with new e-gates capable of allowing arrivals into the country using only advanced facial recognition.

Phil Douglas, the director-general of Border Force, said that the plans have been designed to bring Britain’s border up to a gold standard that has been developed overseas.

Trials of the new technology are expected to begin at airports later this year before the launch of a full procurement process for new gates.

It comes amid growing concerns in the UK Government about the prospect for chaos at the border over French plans to scan fingerprints at the EU border.

Lord Cameron, James Cleverly and Mark Harper have all recently raised concerns about the potential impact of the new Entry/Exit System (EES), with French ministers.

Rishi Sunak was due to bring up the practical impact of the changes, which start in October, with Emmanuel Macron on a call last month but other issues dominated instead.

From Oct 6, people travelling into the EU will have to scan their fingerprints and be photographed at border checks instead of simply presenting their passport.

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AstraZeneca withdrawing Covid vaccine worldwide

The Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine is being withdrawn worldwide, months after the pharmaceutical giant admitted for the first time in court documents that it can cause a rare and dangerous side effect.

The vaccine can no longer be used in the European Union after the company voluntarily withdrew its “marketing authorisation”. The application to withdraw the vaccine was made on March 5 and came into effect on Tuesday.

Similar applications will be made in the coming months in the UK and in other countries that had approved the vaccine, known as Vaxzevria.

The decision to withdraw it brings to an end the use of the jab, which was heralded by Boris Johnson as a “triumph for British science” and credited with saving more than six million lives.

AstraZeneca said the vaccine was being removed from markets for commercial reasons. It said the vaccine was no longer being manufactured or supplied, having been superseded by updated vaccines that tackle new variants. 

Vaxzevria has come under intense scrutiny in recent months over a very rare side effect, which causes blood clots and low blood platelet counts. AstraZeneca admitted in court documents lodged with the High Court in February that the vaccine “can, in very rare cases, cause TTS”.

TTS – which stands for Thrombosis with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome – has been linked to at least 81 deaths in the UK as well as hundreds of serious injuries. AstraZeneca is being sued by more than 50 alleged victims and grieving relatives in a High Court case.

But AstraZeneca has insisted the decision to withdraw the vaccine is not linked to the court case or its admission that it can cause TTS. It said the timing was pure coincidence.

In a statement the company said: “We are incredibly proud of the role Vaxzevria played in ending the global pandemic. According to independent estimates, over 6.5 million lives were saved in the first year of use alone and over three billion doses were supplied globally.

“Our efforts have been recognised by governments around the world and are widely regarded as being a critical component of ending the global pandemic.

“As multiple, variant Covid-19 vaccines have since been developed, there is a surplus of available updated vaccines. This has led to a decline in demand for Vaxzevria, which is no longer being manufactured or supplied. AstraZeneca has therefore taken the decision to initiate withdrawal of the marketing authorisations for Vaxzevria within Europe.

“We will now work with regulators and our partners to align on a clear path forward to conclude this chapter and significant contribution to the Covid-19 pandemic.” 

The Telegraph has been told that the company will withdraw marketing authorisations in other countries, including the UK, where it has regulatory approval. AstraZeneca never had approval for the vaccine to be used in the US.

The company said: “We will partner with regulatory authorities globally to initiate marketing authorisation withdrawals for Vaxzevria, where no future commercial demand for the vaccine is expected.”

The Government largely stopped using the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine by the autumn of 2021, by which time it had supplied about 50 million doses in the UK. It was replaced in the UK with Pfizer and Moderna jabs in time for the winter booster campaign at the end of 2021.

Marco Cavaleri, head of vaccines at the European Medicines Agency, the body which is responsible for drug and medicine safety within the EU, told Italian media: “The authorisation of the anti-Covid vaccine Vaxzevria by AstraZeneca will be withdrawn and the process has already officially started with the European Commission. This is in line with the expectations that no-longer-used and updated vaccines will be withdrawn, as per our indication.”

Mr Cavaleri said he expected all the “monovalent” vaccines – which dealt only with the original Wuhan strain – to be withdrawn in time.

AstraZeneca accepted the vaccine can cause TTS in a legal document in February this year. The causal mechanism is not known. 

Lawyers for claimants in the High Court case argue that the drug caused vaccine-induced immune thrombocytopenia and thrombosis (VITT) – a subset of TTS – and that it was not as safe as individuals were entitled to expect. AstraZeneca has always insisted that “patient safety is our highest priority”.

The company has said: “From the body of evidence in clinical trials and real-world data, the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine has continuously been shown to have an acceptable safety profile and regulators around the world consistently state that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks of extremely rare potential side effects.”

But Kate Scott, whose husband Jamie was left with a permanent brain injury after having the vaccine and who was the first person in the UK to bring a legal action, said: “AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine no longer being used in the UK or Europe, and soon the rest of the world, means no one else will suffer from this awful adverse reaction. 

“They say it is for commercial reasons, but maybe it’s because it can no longer be seen as being within the acceptable safety parameters, with 445 confirmed cases of VITT, 81 of these fatal in the UK alone.”

Mr Scott, 47, a father of two who has had to give up work, said: “This is good news, but I will always wish they had, like they did in other countries, paused it in the UK after just one case. More lives could have been saved and I would not be suffering the way I am.”

Sarah Moore, a partner at law firm Leigh Day, which is bringing the legal claims, said: “To those who we represent, all of whom have suffered bereavement or serious injury as a result of the AstraZeneca vaccine, this decision to withdraw marketing authorisation, ending the usage of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the EU, will be welcomed.

“It will be seen as a decision linked with AstraZeneca’s recent admission that the vaccine can cause TTS, and the fact that regulators across the world suspended or stopped usage of the vaccine following concerns regarding TTS.

“This is an important regulatory step, but still our clients remain without fair compensation. We will continue to fight for the compensation our clients need and campaign for reform of the vaccine damage payment scheme.”

The scheme, run by the Government, has paid out to victims. But it has been branded inadequate, prompting them to bring separate civil claims against AstraZeneca, which the drugs firm is contesting.

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Garrick Club to allow female members for first time

The Garrick Club has voted to allow women members for the first time in its history, The Telegraph understands.

For more than 190 years, the Garrick had refused to admit women as members – but this was overturned following a vote from its 1,500 members at a venue near its headquarters in Covent Garden, central London, on Tuesday.

It is understood that approximately 60 per cent voted in favour of the change, with 40 per cent against. Speakers in favour included Stephen Fry, James Naughtie, Lord Sumption and Nigel Havers.

Members were asked to vote to confirm a resolution “that the rules of the club allow the admission of women members”. Women were previously only allowed to enter the club if invited and accompanied by a man.

The Garrick had faced mounting pressure to change its admission policy following the resignation of several of its members, including four senior judges.

The resignations of Keith Lindblom, an Appeal Court judge, and three high court justices – Nicholas Cusworth, Nicholas Lavender and Ian Dove – had come soon after those of Simon Case, the head of the Civil Service, and Richard Moore, the MI6 chief.

Members of the club had sparked a motion last month to change the rule by nominating seven prominent women, including Dame Mary Beard and Amber Rudd, as members, putting the names forward to a committee meeting.

An open letter, signed by more than 80 lawyers in England and Wales, was published in March, calling on judges to give up their memberships.

The letter stated that membership to the Garrick Club was “incompatible with the core principles of justice, equality and fairness”.

A steady stream of members wearing the club’s distinctive pale pink and green silk tie could be seen filing into the club at around 7pm.

Some were seen happily chatting to one another as they were ushered in by two doormen dressed in velvet-green uniforms.

One member, standing on the steps of the club when asked if the vote was a welcome outcome, he gave a thumbs up and said “absolutely”. Another said “it was a good vote”.

One member went even further saying: “Yes I did support it, that is the way the world is going.

Others were more despondent. “The votes have been made and one needs to accept the outcome,” he said as he ambled across the road towards the club.

Another, when asked if he was in favour of the vote, answered: “I’m not in favour of journalists”.

It is understood the debate itself had been conducted in a largely good-tempered manner, despite the divisions caused by the issue.

The vote was broadcast over a live stream to allow members who could not be there in person to vote remotely.

Other members include politicians Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Gove as well as BBC journalists John Simpson and Clive Myrie and Hollywood actors such as Matthew Macfadyen and Benedict Cumberbatch.

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RE teacher suspended after saying Hamas ‘committed no crime’

A religious studies teacher at a Catholic school has been suspended and reported to the police after saying that Hamas had “committed no crime…

Five-month-old dies after ‘neglect incident’ at Legoland

A five-month-old baby boy who suffered a cardiac arrest following an incident at Legoland last week has died in hospital, police said.

Detectives arrested a 27-year-old woman on suspicion of child neglect after the death at the leisure park in Windsor. It has emerged that a retired paramedic had initially managed to revive the child after hearing shouts for help.

The infant was rushed to Wexham Park Hospital, in Slough, Berks, after the incident on Thursday, but died on Monday.

Matthew Burns, 60, was visiting Legoland with his family and was standing near the Coastguard HQ pedalo ride when a woman ran over asking for help.

Mr Burns told Mail Online he rushed over to find the baby “blue in the face and floppy”, and helped another off-duty medic to try to revive him. 

He said they gave the child CPR for 20 minutes until he started breathing again, before paramedics rushed him to hospital for emergency treatment.

Police cordoned off area

Mr Burns, who spent 40 years working for the ambulance service, was at the attraction with his daughter and her family when it happened. He said the boy had been in a baby carrier when he raced to his aid.

He added: “Just before the ambulances and police turned up, we got a pulse from the boy and he started to make some slight respiratory effort. 

“When we first got to him, I held up his little arm but it flopped down flat, but when we later checked for a pulse his arm stayed up, so at least we were getting some tone.

“There were about six policemen that turned up and cordoned off the area and took statements. My focus had been on the baby. The mother was being looked after by other visitors while this was going on. She was distraught, obviously, and a bit shellshocked.”

Stacey Irwin, Mr Burns’ daughter, described on social media how her father tried to save the boy. She wrote: “It was a long time they spent doing CPR – at least 20-plus minutes. Matt and the other man did an incredible job and managed to get the baby back breathing at the point the ambulances turned up.”

‘Thoughts are with the family’

A spokesman for Thames Valley Police appealed for the public not to speculate on the child neglect investigation, saying: “A five-month-old baby who was seriously injured in a neglect incident at Legoland Windsor Resort, sadly died in hospital on Monday.

“A 27-year-old woman from Witham, Essex, was arrested on suspicion of neglecting a child to cause unnecessary injury on Thursday. She has been released on police bail until July 26.”

Investigating officer Detective Constable Zoe Eele, of the Child Abuse Investigation Unit, said the force was investigating a “distressing incident involving a very young child”.

She added: “Firstly, our thoughts are with the family of the boy who sadly died in hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest. We are supporting them as best we can at this extremely difficult time.

“We are working closely with the team at Legoland Windsor Resort but would like to speak to anyone who may have information about this incident, specifically anyone who was queueing for the Coastguard HQ boat ride between around 11.30am and 12.45pm on Thursday.

“We have made an arrest in relation to this incident, and are not looking for anyone else as a suspect. I would ask for the public to please avoid speculation about the incident and to respect the boy’s family at this deeply upsetting time.”

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