European Commission introduces vaccine export controls amid AstraZeneca supplies dispute

Power to restrict jabs leaving continent introduced as bloc rows with Astrazeneca over vaccine supply chain 

Vincent Wood
Friday 29 January 2021 19:05 GMT
European Commission imposes export ban on vaccines amid AstraZeneca supplies dispute
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The EU will place export controls on vaccines made in the bloc, the European Commision has confirmed following a bitter row over the delivery of the Oxford-Astrazeneca jab into the continent.

Under the act member states would be able to block the export of vaccines made in their provinces. - including supplies of the Pfizer/Biontech jab which is produced in Belgium. 

However while the commission insisted in a statement the imposition of controls did not constitute an export ‘ban’, the measure comes after calls from European officials to restrict the flow of European-made vaccines in the UK following supply issues from British factories.

The UK  is one of the few trading partners the bloc has not listed as exempt from the act.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said: “The pandemic is having devastating effects in Europe and all around the world. 

"Protecting the health of our citizens remains our utmost priority, and we must put in place the necessary measures to ensure we achieve this. 

"This transparency and authorisation mechanism is temporary, and we will of course continue to uphold our commitments towards low and middle income countries.”

It comes after a bitter war of words between the EU and Astrazeneca, the British-Swedish firm producing the Oxford-developed jab, with Brussels airing criticisms over delays in the supply chain not currently being faced by the UK.

In turn the firm has said UK supply has been unencumbered by some of the roll out issues facing the continent because it had signed its agreements with the company sooner than officials in Brussels.

Earlier this week the firm’s CEO Pascal Soriot told Italy’s La Repubblica: "We are basically two months behind where we wanted to be. We've had also teething issues like this in the UK supply chain. But the UK contract was signed three months before the European vaccine deal. 

"So with the UK we have  had an extra three months to fix all the glitches we experienced. As for Europe, we are three months behind in fixing those glitches." 

However in an interview with Euronews, German MEP Peter Liese expressed frustration that Astrazeneca supplies were being held up while the UK made the most of Pfizer-made vaccines, having been the first nation in the world to approve the jab for use.

"For five weeks now the BioNTech vaccine that is only produced in Europe, that has been developed with the aid of the German state and European Union money, is shipped to the United Kingdom," he said.

"So people in the United Kingdom are vaccinated with a very good vaccine that is produced in Europe, supported by European money. If there is anyone thinking that European citizens would accept that we give this high-quality vaccine to the UK and would accept to be treated as second class by UK based company.

"I think the only consequence can be to immediately stop the export of the BioNTech vaccine and then we are in the middle of a trade war. So, the company and the UK better think twice."

Meanwhile the EU has said it refuses to accept claims from the firm that an earlier agreement warranted greater efficiency in supply from the firm.

On Wednesday Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said “We reject the logic of first come, first served. That may work in a butcher’s shop but not in contracts and not in our advanced purchase agreements.”

Announcing the export restrictions, Europe’s commissioner for health and food safety Stella Kyriakides said: “For the best part of the last year we worked hard to get Advance Purchase Agreements with vaccine producers to bring vaccines to the citizens, in Europe and beyond. 

"We gave upfront funding to companies to build the necessary manufacturing capacity to produce vaccines, so deliveries can start as soon as they are authorised. 

"We now need transparency on where the vaccines we secured are going and ensure that they reach our citizens. We are accountable towards the European citizens and taxpayers – that is a key principle for us.”

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