Britain has been singled out for failing to export Covid vaccines to the EU, as Brussels has empowered officials to ban shipments of doses to countries where a large portion of the population has been vaccinated.
Valdis Dombrovskis, vice-president of the European Commission, said the commission was revising its export authorization mechanism to “ensure the vaccination of our own population”.
Under the revised regulations, countries with a high level of vaccine coverage or those that restrict exports by law or their contracts with suppliers are now at risk of being banned from shipments.
The UK does not have an export ban in law, but the government has signed a contract with AstraZeneca which requires the Anglo-Swedish company to first deliver the doses produced in Oxford and Staffordshire in the Great -Brittany.
The UK also appears to not meet the new vaccine coverage criteria, with 45% of residents having received the vaccine compared to 13% in the 27 EU member states.
Dombrovskis said: “Our export authorization mechanism does not concern any particular country. But it is clear that you have to ensure the vaccination of our own population. We’re kind of late. And if you look at the same time, although the EU is one of the global hotspots for the pandemic, the EU is also the biggest exporter of vaccines.
“Just since the introduction of the export authorization [in January] some 10 million doses were exported from the EU to the UK and no doses were exported from the UK to the EU. So if we are discussing reciprocity, solidarity and say global responsibility, it is clear that we also need to look at these aspects of reciprocity and proportionality ”
The EU suffered from a major supply shortage of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine due to a yield issue at a factory in Belgium and the company’s subsequent refusal to divert doses made in the UK.
The EU is threatening to block the export to the UK of an unknown number of doses made at a factory in AstraZeneca in the Netherlands. Discussions between officials on both sides are ongoing.
A UK government spokesperson said: “We are all fighting the same pandemic. Vaccines are an international operation; they are produced by the collaboration of great scientists from all over the world. And we will continue to work with our European partners to ensure the deployment of the vaccine.
“We remain confident in our supplies and are on track to deliver first doses to everyone over 50 by April 15 and to all adults by the end of July. Our plan to prudently reopen the company via our roadmap also remains unchanged. “
The Guardian revealed on Monday that the UK’s vaccination program would be delayed by two months if there was a total ban on doses exported to the UK. EU officials said decisions on exports will be made on a case-by-case basis. “It’s not an export ban,” insisted an official.
The 27 EU heads of state and government will discuss changing the export mechanism at a summit on Thursday. Previously, the mechanism only took into account whether a supplier fulfilled his contract with the EU.
Despite the concerns of some EU countries such as Ireland, the Netherlands and Belgium about the risk to supply chains as a result of the move, there is little chance that it will be withdrawn. .
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU was a global vaccine producer, with 43 million doses distributed in 33 countries since the end of January, but the bloc needed to protect its supplies.
She said: “As our Member States face the third wave of the pandemic and not all companies live up to their contract, the EU is the only major producer in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to continue. to export vaccines on a large scale to dozens of countries.
“But the open roads should run in both directions. This is why the European Commission will introduce the principles of reciprocity and proportionality into the existing EU authorization mechanism.
“The EU has an excellent portfolio of different vaccines and we have achieved more than sufficient doses for the whole population. But we need to ensure timely and sufficient vaccine deliveries to EU citizens. Every day counts. “
Only one export request has so far been banned by the EU: a shipment of 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca from Italy to Australia.
The main export destinations for vaccines manufactured in the EU are the United Kingdom (around 10.9 million doses), Canada (6.6 million), Japan (5.4 million), Mexico (4 , 4 million), Saudi Arabia (1.5 million) and Singapore (1.5 million). , Chile (1.5 m), Hong Kong (1.3 m), Korea (1 m) and Australia (1 m).
“If you have a high vaccination rate, why do you need vaccines there when in other EU countries there is a shortage?” said a senior EU official.
The EU has also broadened the scope of the export authorization mechanism to include all neighboring countries, including those with which it has close trade relations, such as Norway and Switzerland.
EU and UK officials have denied a report by La Stampa newspaper that 29 million doses of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine destined for the UK were found at a plant run by manufacturer Catalent in Anagni, UK. Italy. A UK source said the government did not expect Catalent supplies to be delivered from Italy to the UK.