EU announces stricter controls on coronavirus vaccine exports


A nurse administers a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at the Woluwe-Saint-Pierre vaccination center in Brussels, Belgium.

Jean-Christophe Guillaume | Getty Images News | fake images

LONDON – The European Commission on Wednesday unveiled new plans to restrict the export of Covid-19 vaccines from the 27-member bloc.

Officials are concerned that drug companies will not meet delivery targets in the coming months. And the commission, the EU’s executive arm, wants to make sure member states get all the injections promised by the second quarter.

These vaccines will be critical to reaching its target of vaccinating 70% of the EU adult population by late summer.

“While our Member States are facing the third wave of the pandemic and not all companies are fulfilling their contract, the EU is the only major OECD producer that continues to export vaccines on a large scale to dozens of countries. But the roads open should work in both directions, “said the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in a statement.

The proposals build on existing mechanisms and will introduce two changes in which EU member states will consider “reciprocity” and “proportionality” with their exports.

They will now consider whether the destination country restricts its own exports of vaccines or raw materials, and whether the destination country is ahead or behind the EU with its launch of vaccines.

AstraZeneca dispute

This tougher position for Brussels comes after it suffered setbacks in the number of vaccines delivered by AstraZeneca. Earlier this year, the Anglo-Swedish firm said it could only deliver 30 million doses of its vaccine, developed together with the University of Oxford, in the first quarter instead of around 90 million doses.

And more recently, the pharmaceutical giant also lowered second-quarter delivery expectations to less than half what the block initially expected.

The AstraZeneca trigger is important for a wider deployment in the European Union, because some countries favor it because it is cheaper and requires less stringent maintenance conditions, compared to others.

An EU official, who did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said in a briefing on Wednesday that the new proposal “is not an export ban.” “There is an ongoing deficit in vaccine production and there is also … a not fair enough balance when it comes to distribution,” the official said, adding that the idea is to bridge this gap and increase the supply of vaccines. . balanced.

Von der Leyen already suggested last week that the EU should consider stricter vaccine controls. He claimed at the time that while the EU had exported 41 million doses of Covid-19 injections since January to 33 countries around the world, some nations were not showing the same level of reciprocity.

Commission data shows that of exports so far, the UK has received the most, more than 10 million doses; followed by Canada, which has received 6.6 million; and then Japan with 5.4 million.

‘Not against the UK’

The renewed stance in Brussels could become a problem for the UK, which has been the largest recipient of coronavirus injections produced in the EU so far, and where the vaccination rate is far ahead of that of the EU.

“It is not against the United Kingdom, it is to ensure that AstraZeneca fulfills the commitments it makes to the European Union,” Arancha González, Spain’s foreign minister, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Wednesday.

“The export restrictions for which we have prepared were never intended to be against countries. They had to ensure that pharmaceutical companies fulfilled their commitments, with the contracts they have made with the European Commission,” he added.

A UK government spokesman said Wednesday: “We are all fighting the same pandemic – vaccines are an international collaboration of great scientists from around the world. And we will continue to work with our European partners to implement the vaccine.”

The commission announced in late January that member states could prevent vaccines from leaving the bloc when pharmaceutical companies fail to deliver and when vaccines go to countries not considered vulnerable by the EU.

Wednesday’s new plans are based on this legislation. But the old rules expire at the end of March.

The latest proposal will be discussed by the 27 heads of state on Thursday during an EU summit.

Earlier this week, Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin warned of a stricter vaccine export policy, saying it could undermine the supply of raw materials for vaccine production in the EU. “I’m very against it. I think it would be a very retrograde step,” Martin told RTE radio.

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