EU AstraZeneca Covid Vaccine Blockade Threat Unites UK Politicians


Photographer: Jean-Christophe Guillaume / Getty Images

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the European Union does not want to launch a vaccine battle, even though the bloc has warned it will restrict exports of coronavirus injections to the UK.

In a bid to ease tensions with Brussels, Johnson said avoiding vaccine supply lockdowns is vital because immunization programs require countries to work together.

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Boris Johnson on March 22.

Photographer: Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

“It reassures me talking to EU partners in recent months that they don’t want to see blockades,” Johnson said in a joint interview with broadcasters on Monday. “That is very, very important.”

He spoke after the EU put in place restrictions targeting companies that it says have failed to meet delivery obligations to the bloc. The strain of the vaccine runs the risk of further taking a toll on relations with London, already strained by Brexit, trade and tensions over Northern Ireland.

Astra Exports

The block is likely to reject authorizations to export AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccines and their ingredients to the UK until the drugmaker fulfills its contracts, according to a senior European official, who asked not to be named because the decisions are under consideration. A production plant in the Netherlands and another in Belgium produce ingredients for the Astra shot.

The EU says the problem is one of reciprocity. The UK is the largest recipient of manufactured doses in the EU, receiving 10 million of the 42 million injections exported by the bloc so far.

“It’s about making sure that if we export vaccines to countries that also produce vaccines, we also receive vaccines or products necessary for the production of vaccines,” said European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer.

Despite the slow rollout of vaccines in the EU, not all governments are in favor of export controls. Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said on Monday they would be a “step backwards”.

But he too indicated that Great Britain must face the situation, “which is that AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured in Europe have been made available to go to Great Britain, that must be recognized by the United Kingdom and reciprocated to some extent”.

Relates to UK's Johnson Says EU Doesn't Want Vaccine 'Locks'

Meanwhile, with the increase in virus cases in the EU, governments have been forced to implement new closures. Johnson cautioned that the UK may not escape the latest increase.

“People in this country should not be under any illusions that past experience has taught us that when a wave hits our friends, it also hits our shores,” he said. The UK is reflecting on next steps to ease restrictions.

Relates to UK's Johnson Says EU Doesn't Want Vaccine 'Locks'

Ahead of a meeting of EU leaders later this week, Johnson has been discussing the vaccine issue with his counterparts, including Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Belgian Alexander De Croo, a person familiar with the matter said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with Johnson on Sunday. While her spokeswoman Martina Fietz said Merkel seemed eager to bring calm, she too indicated that Germany “supports the attempts of the EU commission to ensure that member states receive vaccines in accordance with the agreements reached.”

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