The EU tightens rules for vaccine exports and pressures AstraZeneca to supply

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.

Thierry Monasse | Getty Images News | Getty images

LONDON – The European Union has tightened up stricter rules for the export of Covid vaccines, while pushing AstraZeneca to deliver more shots to the region.

It’s because the slow roll-out of vaccines in the region is under scrutiny, despite the EU continuing to export millions of coronavirus shots abroad.

In an effort to gain a stronger negotiating position with drug companies that don’t respect delivery targets, the bloc has expanded its strict rules on vaccine exports.

Before approving shipments of Covid-19 shots, the EU will consider whether the recipient country has restrictions on vaccines or raw materials, and whether it is in a better epidemiological situation.

“We want to make sure Europe gets a fair share of the vaccines. Because we need to be able to explain to our citizens that if companies export their vaccines around the world, it is because they are fully complying with their obligations and there is no risk. the European Union, ”said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday.

We all know we could have been much faster if all the pharmaceutical companies had honored their contracts.

Ursula von der Leyen

President of the European Commission

Data released Thursday shows that the EU has exported 77 million doses of Covid shots to 33 countries around the world since December. At the same time, 88 million have been delivered to EU countries, of which 62 million have been managed. As such, the EU has so far exported more photos than it has given to its citizens.

However, some EU countries have expressed concerns about tougher export regulations, with countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands wanting supply chains to remain open. There is a risk that if vaccine exports are stopped, a trade war will ensue and other parts of the world – producing the raw materials needed to produce vaccines – will stop shipping to Europe.

Press AstraZeneca

The EU has also been at odds with the Swedish-British drug company for not delivering as many Covid shots as the block expected.

The 27 countries were waiting for 90 million doses of this vaccine in the first quarter and 180 million in the second quarter of 2021. However, AstraZeneca has said that due to manufacturing issues, it can deliver only 30 million doses until the end of March and 70 million between April and June. .

The reduced delivery targets are a concern for EU countries, some of whom wanted more of this vaccine because it is cheaper and easier to store than others. Any further delays in delivery to Europe could jeopardize the wider rollout plans.

“We all know we could have been much faster if all the pharmaceutical companies had honored their contracts,” von der Leyen said on Thursday.

At a press conference, she added that AstraZeneca “must catch up, fulfill its contract with European member states, before it can export vaccines again”.

The EU’s vaccine roll-out has faced a number of challenges since its inception and the Commission, negotiating with drug manufacturers, has been criticized for taking too long to sign vaccine agreements.

Italy’s former Prime Minister Mario Monti told CNBC on Friday: “ We should not be too surprised that Europe has responded reasonably well in terms of monetary, financial and fiscal response to the pandemic, and not quite so far (so ) good of purchasing and industrial response. “

He argued that while EU countries have integrated their monetary policy and some of their fiscal responses, “there has never been such a thing as a health union.”

Individual governments are still responsible for their own health policies, while areas such as international trade are the primary responsibility of the European Commission.

A deal with the UK

The EU’s stricter export regulations could become a problem for the UK in particular, which has received vaccines from the EU. The vaccination coverage is higher than that of the block, considering the number of first doses administered.

Figures from the European Commission show that the UK has received 21 million doses of vaccines produced in the bloc – the highest share of EU exports to date. The UK has administered 31 million doses of Covid-19 injections to its population so far, suggesting that about two-thirds of the vaccines used in the UK come from the EU.

“We discussed what else we can do to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship between the UK and the EU on Covid-19,” the two sides said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

“Given our interdependencies, we are working on specific steps we can take – in the short, medium and long term – to create a win-win situation and expand the vaccine offering to all our citizens.”

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said at a press conference on Thursday that an agreement for the supply of vaccines between the EU and the UK could be announced on Saturday.