President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.
Thierry Monasse | Getty Images News | fake images
LONDON – The European Union has tightened strict rules on exports of Covid vaccines, while putting pressure on AstraZeneca to deliver more injections in the region.
It comes as the slow launch of vaccines in the region faces scrutiny, even as the EU continues to export millions of coronavirus vaccines abroad.
In an attempt to have a stronger negotiating position with pharmaceutical companies that do not respect delivery targets, the bloc has expanded its strict rules on the export of vaccines.
Before approving shipments of Covid-19 injections, the EU will consider whether the recipient country has any restrictions on vaccines or raw materials, as well as whether it is in a better epidemiological situation.
“We want to make sure that Europe receives its fair share of vaccines. Because we must be able to explain to our citizens that if companies export their vaccines all over the world, it is because they are fully fulfilling their commitments and not security of supply in the European Union”, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Thursday.
Data released Thursday showed that the EU has exported 77 million doses of Covid injections since December to 33 countries around the world. At the same time, 88 million have been delivered to EU countries, of which 62 million have been administered. As such, the EU has exported more injections than it has given its citizens so far.
However, some EU nations have raised concerns about stricter export rules, and countries like Belgium and the Netherlands want supply chains to remain open. There is a risk that if vaccine exports are stopped, a trade war could start and other parts of the world, which manufacture the raw materials needed for vaccine production, could stop shipping them to Europe.
Pressure on AstraZeneca
The EU has also disagreed with the Swedish-British pharmaceutical company for not administering as many Covid injections as the bloc expected.
The 27 nations were expecting 90 million doses of this vaccine in the first quarter and 180 million in the second quarter of 2021. However, AstraZeneca has said that production problems mean it can only deliver 30 million doses until the end of March. and 70 million between April and June.
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Tight delivery targets are a concern for EU nations, some of which wanted more of this vaccine as it is cheaper and easier to store than others. Any further delay in delivery to Europe could compromise its broader implementation plans.
“We all know that we could have been much faster if all the pharmaceutical companies had fulfilled their contracts,” von der Leyen said on Thursday.
During a press conference, he added that AstraZeneca “has to catch up, it has to fulfill the contract it has with the European member states, before it can go back to exporting vaccines.”
The EU vaccine launch has faced a number of challenges from the start and the Commission, which negotiated with drug manufacturers, has been criticized for taking too long to sign vaccine agreements.
Speaking to CNBC on Friday, Italy’s former Prime Minister Mario Monti said: “It should not surprise us too much that Europe has reacted quite well in terms of monetary, financial and fiscal response to the pandemic, and so far not so well of acquisitions and industrial response “.
He argued that, although the EU nations have integrated their monetary policies and part of their fiscal responses, “there has never been a health union.”
Individual governments are still in charge of their own health policies, while areas such as international trade are the main responsibility of the European Commission.
A deal with the UK
Tighter EU export regulations could become a problem for the UK in particular, which has been receiving vaccines from the EU. Its vaccination rate is higher than that of the block, when looking at the number of first doses administered.
Figures from the European Commission show that the UK has received 21 million doses of EU-produced vaccines, the bulk of EU exports so far. The UK has delivered 31 million doses of Covid-19 injections to its population so far, suggesting that roughly two-thirds of the vaccines used in the UK come from the EU.
“We have been discussing what else we can do to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship between the UK and the EU on Covid-19,” the two sides said in a joint statement on Wednesday.
“Given our interdependencies, we are working on specific steps that we can take, in the short, medium and long term, to create a win-win situation and expand the supply of vaccines to all of our citizens.”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told a press conference on Thursday that a vaccine supply deal between the EU and the UK could be announced on Saturday.