LONDON – A dispute between the UK and the European Union over exports of Covid-19 vaccines could not only jeopardize current vaccination campaigns but also undermine the fight against new variants, experts warn.
On Wednesday the European Commission said “Reciprocity” would be one of the new criteria that should be considered before the export of vaccines outside the 27-nation bloc is approved. The EU. The vaccination campaign is lagging behind other countries, including the UK, as Covid-19 cases rise across the continent.
Talk of an export ban last week brought requests for cooperation from Great Britain, which is partly dependent on vaccine deliveries from Europe.
EU. Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides stressed that the new rules are not an export ban – but experts warn that international tensions like this one could have serious side effects. The European Commission and the UK have one short explanation Wednesday evening to say they were in talks about vaccination schedules and E.U. The heads of state will discuss this on Thursday at a virtual summit.
“If trade restrictions and other supply-side constraints prevent universal coverage, it would indeed make us all less safe,” said Rob Yates, director of global health programs at Chatham House think tank in London.
“With new variants that may require a new booster vaccine, we may need to ensure universal coverage of these new vaccines every year.”
Since the pandemic began, health experts have insisted that no one is safe until vaccinations are available around the world. And the longer the virus has circulated, the greater the chance that new, more contagious, or more deadly variants will develop.
Export bans and conflicts over the distribution of vaccines could only hinder these efforts.
“It is related to vaccine coverage because if you delay vaccine coverage, over time you create more opportunities for replication in large communities and emerging strains and variants,” said Dr. Antoine Flahault, Director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva.
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Europe is now facing a third wave of the virus, along with new lockdowns in several countries. On Wednesday, Kyriakides said the spread of variants, including the South African variant identified in 18 countries, had increased in the bloc.
Just more than 10 percent of adults in the EU. received their first shot, compared to more than 50 percent of adults in the UK and 32 percent of adults in the United States.
President Joe Biden has said there will be enough doses for every adult in the US by the end of May, and the UK hopes to have admission to all adults by the end of July. The European Union aims to vaccinate 70 percent of adults by the end of summer.
The US and UK are not known to have exported vaccines. At the same time, manufacturers based in the E.U. have exported at least 41 million cans to 33 countries since the beginning of February, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said last week.
Last week the White House announced a plan for the first US exports: 4 million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to Canada and Mexico. The vaccine is not yet approved for use in the United States.
The US has also announced that it will donate up to $ 4 billion to the COVAX humanitarian program, which aims to distribute vaccines fairly between rich countries and developing countries. However, critics have said that these countries need the vaccines more than the money.
And slowing the distribution of vaccines due to trade barriers could exacerbate the situation.
“To the extent that trade restrictions actually hinder the proper and orderly international introduction of the vaccine could indirectly create further problems by creating more variants that we cannot deal with,” said Flavio Toxvaerd. an economic epidemiologist at Cambridge University.
According to Matt Linley, senior analyst at Airfinity, a scientific analysis company, US vaccine shipments could also come under pressure if the E.U. issues trade restrictions.
“There is potential for countries to put pressure on the US to release Pfizer and Moderna cans if they are not from Europe,” he said.
Right now, British politicians this week stressed the need for international cooperation on vaccines to avoid escalating tensions with the European Union. However, according to the Yates of Chatham House, these trading pressures are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
“It’s not going to go away, especially when we need booster vaccines and new vaccines,” he said. “This could really become a major global health problem in the future.”