European Commission Moves Forward on Tightening Vaccine Exports
As Europe continues to face challenges and setbacks in its COVID-19 vaccination efforts, the European Commission (EC) has proposed new criteria for vaccine export authorizations to conserve its supplies.
The unprecedented proposal, which is due to be discussed at the EU’s virtual vaccine summit today and Friday, directs member states and the EC to gauge whether there is “reciprocity” and “proportionality” when considering whether to authorize vaccine and raw material exports to countries outside the bloc.
Specifically, the commission believes Europe should assess whether non-EC countries are restricting their exports of vaccines and raw materials, as well as whether they are faring better or worse in their national vaccination efforts than Europe — and should refuse exports accordingly.
Should the EU adopt the new export criteria, the UK could be among the most impacted. The former bloc member was blasted by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in recent days for failing to provide any shipments of AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine doses made in the UK. She claimed that British factories did not ship any doses of the vaccine to Europe despite the trade bloc shipping domestically made vaccine doses to the UK.
The EC’s proposal was prompted in part by multiple vaccine supply delays on the part of AZ, which is headquartered in the UK. The drugmaker has cited both production problems and export restrictions as reasons for its failure to meet European supply commitments. The company is under contract to supply 300 million doses to Europe by the end of June but currently anticipates only making good on 30 million doses in the first quarter (DID, March 16).
EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis noted the disparity between Europe’s vaccine exports and those in the rest of the world, claiming that of the 381 export requests it received, it granted all but one relating to shipments of the AZ vaccine.
“Europe has taken every step to act fairly and responsibly, mindful of our global leadership role, since the start of the pandemic,” he said. “We see, however, that continuing shortfalls in production are not distributed fairly across different contracting countries. The EU is the only [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] producer that continues to export vaccines to countries that have production capacities of their own. But when these countries do not export to the EU, there is no reciprocity.”
Despite the commission’s move, it issued a joint statement with the UK government Wednesday assuring that the pair are in discussions to come up with a “win-win” situation that expands the amount of vaccines available to both European and UK citizens.
“In the end, openness and global cooperation of all countries will be key to finally overcome this pandemic and ensure better preparation for meeting future challenges,” the EU and UK said.
India also reportedly moved to protect its supplies of AZ vaccine yesterday, including temporarily banning major exports of AZ vaccine doses made by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine producer. The country is currently seeing a spike in coronavirus cases as well as a new variant strain of the coronavirus that bears mutations previously unseen, though it’s not known yet if the new strain is more contagious or more dangerous. — James Miessler