Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.
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LONDON – Tensions are high between the UK and the European Union as the 27-member bloc considers restricting exports of Covid-19 vaccines through the English Channel.
The European Union is increasingly frustrated with AstraZeneca for not respecting its targets for handover to the bloc. The pharmaceutical company reduced the number of vaccines it will deliver to the EU twice in the first quarter and once in the second. As a result, European officials are concerned that any future problems could undermine their vaccination goals.
AstraZeneca has met its delivery targets for the UK, where the vaccination rate is higher than in the EU, despite the fact that some of these vaccines come from plants in the European Union. The UK placed its order for AstraZeneca shots ahead of the EU.
“The EU needs to ensure the delivery of vaccines to Europeans in accordance with companies’ contractual obligations. We will review the different tools at our disposal for that purpose, including the use of the export authorization regime in its current or adapted form,” a European Commission spokesman told CNBC on Monday.
At the end of January, the EU approved restrictions on exports of Covid-19 vaccines, but they can only be implemented if a company is not respecting its contractual obligations to the region and if the vaccines are destined for a country considered non-vulnerable.
This is what allowed Italy to stop a shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines to Australia a couple of weeks ago, the only case where European authorities prevented Covid injections from leaving the region. However, the legislation will expire at the end of March.
“There is an ongoing process of reflection in the EU, and we will consult the Member States. All options are on the table,” added the spokesman for the European Commission by email. The issue is expected to be discussed by the 27 heads of state on Thursday during a European summit.
Speaking to a group of newspapers over the weekend, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “We have the possibility to ban planned exports. That is the message to AstraZeneca, ‘fulfill your contract with Europe. before we start making deliveries to other countries’. “
Von der Leyen had already called for stricter restrictions on exports last week.
“We will reflect on whether exports to countries that have higher vaccination rates than we do continue to be proportionate,” he said Wednesday.
Until last week, the European Union exported 41 million doses of Covid injections to 33 countries. The largest recipient has been the United Kingdom
The UK government did not confirm when contacted by CNBC on Monday whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson should speak to European leaders about vaccine exports. A spokesman for the prime minister said later on Monday that the UK government believes in the importance of countries not imposing restrictions on the export of vaccines and that nations should work together, Reuters reported.
However, UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News on Sunday that blocking vaccines would be “counterproductive” and damage the reputation of the EU.
Pfizer, whose vaccine has been used the most across the EU so far, said the region should not block the export of Covid injections because the company needs raw materials from the UK. reaching plants in the EU.
A Pfizer spokesperson told CNBC on Monday that its position is aligned with the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, which said in January that export bans run the risk of retaliation “given the global nature of supply lines for pharmaceuticals. vaccines”.
The UK aims to finish vaccinating its adult population with the first dose of Covid injections by July.
Despite a “tough” start to deployment in the European Union, as von der Leyen described it last week, the bloc also intends to achieve herd immunity by mid-July.
“By July 14, we have the opportunity to achieve immunity,” Thierry Breton, European commissioner for the internal market, told French TV channel TF1 on Sunday.
The EU’s target will depend on the fulfillment of delivery contracts by four pharmaceutical companies and the ability of Member States to vaccinate their populations.