Pascal Soriot, the chief executive of AstraZeneca, says the vaccine produced by his company could be the reason why Britain is faring better than Europe when it comes to Covid.
Although cases have been higher in the UK than on the continent since the summer and vaccine rates are not dissimilar, hospitalisations have remained relatively low and certainly below what is happening in many EU countries.
The seven-day average of Covid deaths in Germany is now twice that in Britain and its intensive care beds (of which there are many more than in this country) face being overwhelmed by seriously ill patients. Yet about 68 per cent of Germany’s population has been vaccinated twice, the same as the UK, and the number of new cases is roughly similar.
Clearly, the roll-out of the booster may have had an impact, with more than 12 million UK adults now having had a third shot. In Europe, the take-up is much slower and because the first vaccines were rolled out later, the third jab offer has been delayed into the autumn and early winter. Many countries are still administering the booster only to clinically vulnerable people rather than all adults over 40.
Mr Soriot, however, believes the differences are explained by the fact that so many older people were given the Oxford vaccine in Britain, whereas EU states initially banned the jab for their elderly populations.
The credibility of the Oxford vaccine was undermined by Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, who both cast doubts on its safety and efficacy until it turned out to be very good at triggering a long-lasting immune response.
If, as a consequence, EU countries are now seeing a larger cohort of older people ending up in hospital or dying, those two leaders will have a great deal to answer for.
Their confused messaging left many people reluctant to accept a jab that may have been better at preventing serious illness. The difficulty is that a dearth of data makes it hard to find out exactly what is going on.
By now, there must be sufficient information within the NHS on the efficacy of the various vaccines to reach some conclusions as to why these trends are so different. The data should be put in the public domain forthwith.