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DUP Upper Bann MLA Jonathan Buckley who is also a member of Stormont’s Health Committee has criticised the politically-motivated decision by a number of EU countries to suspend the use of the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine.

Commenting after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced that the vaccine was 'safe and effective' and 'not associated' with higher risk of blood clots, Mr Buckley said:

‘‘Since January, when Brussels threatened to cut off vaccine supplies to Northern Ireland, some EU countries have cynically tried to deflect from the mismanagement of their own vaccination programmes by disrupting and discrediting the roll-out in the United Kingdom.

The politically motivated and highly charged decision by some countries to suspend the Astra Zeneca was entirely reckless, especially as millions of citizens across the EU wait on potentially lifesaving protection from the virus. It remains to be seen how it will affect the rate of transmission or delay the roll-out of the vaccine to vulnerable groups.

The decision has been condemned by scientists, researchers and leading regulatory bodies as being without foundation. The head of Italy’s medicines authority has admitted that the decision was a ‘political one’ and in Germany the health minister has come under pressure to resign for his role in hyping up alleged links.

Such narrow nationalism and jealousy should have no place in our response to Covid-19. Reports that the European Parliament has voted to spend €4.2m of taxpayers' money on an exclusive vaccine and testing centre for MEPs and their staff will further entrench concerns about the EU’s priorities amidst this crisis.

The First Minister has already indicated our desire to cooperate with our closest neighbours in the Irish Republic in relation to the vaccine. All governments should recognise that we are facing a common threat and every country may inevitably experience bumps in the road in terms of supply. The key should be to work together in cooperation and with respect to secure the best outcome for all citizens.

Those who have chosen to play politics with the Oxford vaccine should urgently reflect, recognise the harm they have caused and change course before it’s too late.’’