EU adopts Covid-19 vaccine export control scheme

News Desk:

The move was firmly criticised by the World Health Organization and risked
stoking conflict with the UK just weeks after London and Brussels sealed a
trade deal.

“We paid these companies to increase production and now we expect them to
deliver,” EU Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis told reporters.

“Today’s measure has been adopted with the utmost urgency. The aim is to
provide us immediately with full transparency…. And if needed, it also will
provide us with a tool to ensure vaccine deliveries.”

EU officials said they expected the order to come into effect on Saturday
after its publication in the official journal.

The emergency measure is initially for six weeks but is intended to then
continue until at least the end of March.

The WHO said the move was part of a “very worrying trend” that could
jeopardise the global supply chain for vaccines.

“It is not helpful to have any country at this stage putting export bans
or export barriers that will not allow for the free movement of the necessary
ingredients that will make vaccines, diagnostics and other medicines
available to all the world,” said Mariangela Simao, WHO assistant director
for access to medicines and health product.

The EU’s plan applies only to those coronavirus vaccines that are covered
by advance purchase agreements between drug companies and the European
Commission.

Those firms in the EU will have to apply for an authorisation to export
doses meant for countries outside the bloc, and show their export records for
the previous three months.

A response would normally be given within 48 hours, though that could be
extended if necessary.

Most non-EU countries in and around Europe, such as Switzerland, those in
the Balkans or micro-states like Monaco, are exempted from the measure.

But Britain, which last year left the EU amid much acrimony, is not.

Brussels has been in a furious dispute with AstraZeneca this week,
accusing it of breaching its contract by delaying deliveries to EU
governments while maintaining those under a deal it signed earlier with the
UK.

But Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides insisted: “We are not protecting
ourselves against any specific country. And we’re not in competition or in a
race against any country.”

The prior three-month reporting period would presumably reveal whether or
not AstraZeneca did indeed — as has been alleged — send vaccines to Britain
from its vaccine plants in Europe, which it says have since been hit by
production glitches.

Belgian authorities on Thursday searched one AstraZeneca plant in southern
Belgium at the European Commission’s request. Data seized is being analysed.

– ‘A fair approach’ –

EU officials insisted that the scheme is not targeting AstraZeneca alone,
but all Covid vaccine-exporting firms tied to the Commission by contracts.

The main goal, they said, was to gather information, though they admitted
that in “certain circumstances” vaccine exports could be denied.

“What we want to achieve is of course, a fair approach. And transparency
will help us in that respect,” said one official on condition of anonymity.

Vaccines, he said, are “a very strategic product, at a very delicate
time”.

The officials noted that the EU’s vaccine procurement portfolio is for 2.5
billion doses of authorised and potential vaccines — more than enough for
the bloc’s 450 million inhabitants.

That is because the Commission also bought on behalf of poorer countries,
with its excess doses to be funnelled through the WHO-led COVAX facility.

“We’re not talking about vaccine nationalism,” one official said. “From
the beginning we intended to share these vaccines with our neighbours.”

Right now, though, the EU’s vaccination programme is flagging badly,
triggering anger among member states.

On Britain not being exempted from the export-authorisation scheme, one EU
official said: “The United Kingdom does not belong to either the COVAX
countries nor to the EFTA (EU-linked European Free Trade Association)
countries, nor to the neighbourhood.”

Speaking at a virtual news conference later Friday, AstraZeneca chief
executive Pascal Soriot said the firm was working “24/7 to improve the supply
we have”.

“We have a very very broad supply chain around the world. We are already
producing an enormous amount of vaccine over a month.

“Our plan is to source some of this material and bring it to Europe. The
first shipment will be about three million doses that are going to leave in
the next few days,” he added.

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