LONDON – The European Union threatens to restrict exports of Covid-19 vaccines manufactured in the bloc as anger over the slow roll-out of vaccinations rises.
“EU. Member States agree: vaccine developers have social and contractual obligations that they have to fulfill,” said Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides late Monday after two tense rounds of negotiations with representatives of vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca, in which the Commissioner said “insufficient explanations”.
AstraZeneca took E.U. Officials who were surprised last week when they announced their first shipments of the Covid-19 vaccine, developed in partnership with Oxford University in the UK, would be lower than originally thought due to manufacturing issues in Europe. The company didn’t say how much lower the volume will be.
This came just a week after Pfizer-BioNTech announced that vaccine shipments to the block would be temporarily reduced, even without setting the amount of the reduction, but reassuring that the delivery schedule to the E.U. in this week.
Both AstraZeneca and Pfizer have vaccine manufacturing facilities in Europe.
Despite exercising significant economic and political power, the bloc, with a total population of 450 million people, has fallen behind other parts of the world on Covid-19 vaccinations.
Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Great Britain are well ahead of E.U. Nations, according to Oxford University global vaccination tracker website.
Great Britain, which recently acquired the E.U. has left, has so far given more than 10 doses per 100 of its residents, while the top performing E.U. Nation, Denmark, stands at 3.6 doses per 100 people. Germany and France have 2 and 1.6 cans, respectively.
The delays are a severe blow to the union’s goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the total adult population by late summer.
The EU. Also launched its vaccination efforts weeks after the UK and United States amid tighter government controls.
Kyriakides said the E.U. intends to “take all necessary measures to protect its citizens and their rights”.
“In the future, all companies that manufacture vaccines against Covid-19 in the European Union must be notified in good time if they want to export vaccines to third countries,” without going into detail on how future restrictions would work.
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Other E.U. The officials did not respond to questions about whether they would stop future exports or provide further details on the exact measures they would take.
Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn also called for export restrictions on coronavirus vaccines in an interview with the German broadcaster ZDF on Tuesday.
Vaccines that the E.U. will need a permit “so that we at least know what is being made in Europe, what is leaving Europe and when it is leaving Europe, whether there will be fair distribution,” he said. He didn’t say how exactly the permit would work.
“We know that the EU’s proposed notification process is aimed at increasing transparency and is not intended to limit patient care worldwide,” a Pfizer spokesman told NBC News in an email that also stated that the U.S. vaccine supply originates from Kalamazoo, Michigan. “It is important, however, that governments not impose export restrictions or other trade barriers that create uncertainty and disrupt the supply of vaccines to patients around the world.”
AstraZeneca did not respond to requests for comment.
AstraZeneca has several orders from countries outside the European Union, with the largest pre-sale coming from the US at 500 million, but Canada, Japan, the African Union, Brazil, Australia and others also have offers for millions of cans. according to Duke University. Similarly, Pfizer has several contracts with non-EU. Countries including 200 million for the US and 100 million for China.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine has not yet been approved in the European Union but is expected to receive the green light from the block’s medical regulator this week. The EU. has committed to purchase 300 million cans with an option for an additional 100 million.
The EU. Strategically negotiated vaccine purchases in bulk for all member states to introduce vaccinations across the bloc at the same time to avoid internal competition and logistical challenges.
The European Union’s move to curb vaccine exports has already been criticized by officials in the UK who procured their own vaccine supply and became the first nation to launch the Pfizer vaccine in December.
“It seems like a pretty childish and malicious way of acting,” said David Jones, a former minister who supports Brexit. told the British newspaper Telegraphadding that it looks “horrible like blackmail”.
AstraZeneca and E.U. Officials are expected to resume discussions on Wednesday.
Vivi Vitalone and Andy Eckardt contributed.