BRUSSELS (AP) – The European Union adopted tighter export controls for coronavirus vaccines on Wednesday, seeking to ensure its 27 countries receive more COVID-19 vaccines to boost the declining vaccination campaign block in the midst of an outbreak of new infections.
The EU Executive Commission said on the eve of a summit of EU leaders that it has a plan to ensure that more vaccines produced in the bloc are available to its 450 million citizens, even if this comes at the cost of helping countries outside the bloc, especially Great Britain.
EU officials have said trade with the United States should not be affected and assured countries seeking an open and transparent relationship with the bloc that they have little to fear.
The EU decision is expected to be a blow to Britain, whose rapid rollout of vaccination has been the envy of many EU countries, especially since it came as the Kingdom -Uni has officially completed its Brexit divorce from the bloc. The latest figures show 45% of Britons have had at least one shot of the vaccine, compared to less than 14% for the block.
“I specifically mention the UK,” said European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis. Since the end of January, “some 10 million doses have been exported from the EU to the UK and no dose has been exported from the UK to the EU”.
“So it’s clear that we also need to look at these aspects of reciprocity and proportionality,” he said.
In the post-Brexit era, the two sides argued over everything from diplomatic representation to border controls and bureaucracy, but they didn’t want to adopt the same confrontational tone about vaccines that save the living, especially when the World Health Organization sounds the alarm. on the increase in new infections across Europe.
Just hours after the Commission decision, the EU and the UK said in a joint statement that ‘we are all facing the same pandemic and the third wave makes cooperation between the EU and the UK even more important ”.
“Ultimately, openness and global cooperation from all countries will be essential to finally overcome this pandemic and ensure better preparedness for future challenges,” the statement said.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said global vaccine cooperation is the EU standard. The bloc has approved sending 41 million doses of vaccine to 33 countries over the past seven weeks and believes it is at the forefront of international vaccine sharing efforts. The aggregate total of exported vaccines is even larger as many others were not covered by the recent export regime.
Some EU member states preparing for Thursday’s summit, however, feared that too hard an export stance would amount to a de facto export ban that undermines the EU’s reputation as a trading bloc open.
Under a less stringent export control system in place so far, only one out of 381 vaccine shipments has been banned. This was heading to Australia, which has a very limited coronavirus outbreak compared to the third wave of infections that many EU countries are now facing.
“We obtained more than sufficient doses for the entire population. But we need to ensure timely and sufficient vaccine deliveries to EU citizens, ”said von der Leyen. “Every day counts.”
Under the new regime, EU officials would also take into account reciprocity and the search for a fair balance.
Canada also receives vaccines shipped from Europe and has been assured “that these measures will not affect vaccine shipments to Canada,” a Canadian government spokesperson said.
The EU has been arguing with AstraZeneca for months over the exact number of vaccine doses that would be delivered on certain dates. Several vaccine producers, including Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca, were hit by technical production delays over the winter, just as global demand for coronavirus vaccines skyrocketed. AstraZeneca produced less than half of the doses the EU relied on.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has sought to ease tensions over vaccines, speaking by phone in recent days to European leaders, including von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron.
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“The partnership we have with our European colleagues is very, very important and we continue to work with them,” Johnson told lawmakers on Wednesday. “I don’t think vaccine blockages … or vaccine ingredients are reasonable.”
“I would just like to kindly point out to anyone considering a blockade … that companies can look at such actions and draw conclusions about whether or not to make future investments in countries where blockades are imposed,” Johnson said.
Contributed Rob Gillies from Toronto, Jill Lawless from London.
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