BRUSSELS (Reuters) – EU leaders expressed frustration on Thursday over a massive shortfall in contracted deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca, as a third wave of infections emerged in Europe.
With inoculation programs far behind those of Britain and the United States, the bloc executive warned that the British-Swedish company’s vaccine exports would be blocked until it delivers the injections it promised to the EU.
“We have to and we want to explain to our European citizens that they get their fair share,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at a press conference after a videoconference summit of European Union leaders.
“The company has to catch up, it has to fulfill the contract it has with the European member states, before it can participate again in the export of vaccines,” he said.
Of the 300 million doses to be delivered to EU countries by the end of June, Astrazeneca aims to deliver only 100 million.
That has contributed to a stuttering start to vaccine launches. As of March 23, Britain had given nearly 46 injections per 100 people, compared to less than 14 per cent in the 27-nation bloc it left last year, according to figures compiled by the Our World In Data website.
This week, the European Commission unveiled plans to strengthen surveillance of vaccine exports. This would allow a greater margin to block shipments to countries with higher inoculation rates.
The EU is divided on whether to adopt a stricter line on vaccine exports by companies that do not meet contractual commitments. French President Emmanuel Macron made it clear that he fully agreed.
“It is the end of naivety,” he told a news conference after the summit. “I support the fact that we must block all exports as long as some pharmaceutical companies do not respect their commitments to Europeans.”
FIGHT WITH GREAT BRITAIN
The troubled launch of the vaccine in Europe has sparked a dispute with Britain, which has imported 21 million doses manufactured in the EU, according to an EU official. Britain says it did a better job negotiating with manufacturers and organizing supply chains.
The EU says it should share more, in particular to help make up the shortfall in contracted deliveries of AstraZeneca injections.
Brussels and London sought to defuse tensions on Wednesday, declaring that they were working “to create a win-win situation and expand the supply of vaccines for all of our citizens.”
Highlighting the EU’s difficulties, US biotech Novavax is delaying signing a contract to supply its vaccine to the bloc, an EU official told Reuters on Thursday, due to problems sourcing some raw materials.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he and other leaders hoped the stricter approach would not be applied to vaccine exports, and warned of “broader consequences” if it was applied.
Von der Leyen, seeking to counter allegations that the EU threat to block exports amounted to “vaccine nationalism”, presented slides showing that 77 million doses of vaccines had been shipped from EU plants to more from 40 countries since the beginning of December.
He said the EU would still reach its target of having 70% of adults vaccinated by the summer and noted that although a third wave of infections was underway, mortality increases were slower than the spread of the virus due to vaccines. of the elderly.
Written by John Chalmers; Additional reporting by John Chalmers, Michel Rose, Sabine Siebold, Francesco Guarascio, Madeline Chambers; Edited by David Gregorio