EU tightens controls on vaccine exports, leaves door open for bans

"We need transparency on where the vaccines we secured are going and ensure that they reach our citizens,” said health and food safety Commissioner, Stella Kyriakides.  [EPA-EFE]

On the back of increasing tensions with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, the European Commission launched a scheme to monitor exports of vaccines on Friday (29 January), leaving the door open to reject exports of vaccines produced in the EU as it sees fit.

“For the best part of the last year, we worked hard to get Advance Purchase Agreements (APAs) 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,” said health and food safety Commissioner, Stella Kyriakides.

“We now need transparency on where the vaccines we secured are going and ensure that they reach our citizens,” she stressed.

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

“This is a race against the clock – we cannot lose time because of vaccines not being delivered as per the agreed schedule,” he said, stressing the need to make sure all APAs made between the EU and these companies are honoured.

Describing the measures as “strictly targeted”, he said that the measures had 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.”

The measure applies only to those coronavirus vaccines that are covered by advance purchase agreements between drug companies and the Commission.

In accordance with its humanitarian commitments, the Commission said that the measures do not apply for exports to any of the 92 low and middle-income countries listed in the COVAX advance market commitment list or exports in the context of a humanitarian emergency response.

Any decision to halt the export of vaccines will require an agreement from both the member state involved and the Commission.

EU officials said they expected the order to come into effect on Saturday, and it is intended to continue until the end of March.

EU-AstraZeneca row heats up as Commission asks to publish contract

The European Commission has once again rejected AstraZeneca’s claim that it has not breached any contractual obligation to the EU by delaying the shipment of vaccines, and instead suggested to make public the contract with the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company.

The launch of vaccine export authorisations comes on the back of increasing tensions between the EU executive and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, which is accused of breaching its contract by delaying deliveries to EU governments while maintaining those under a deal it signed earlier with the UK.

But Kyriakides insisted that the EU is “not protecting ourselves against any specific country. And we’re not in competition or in a race against any country.”

“The only race we’re in is against this virus,” she stressed.

However, Dombrovskis confirmed that companies declaring new exports would also have to provide information “on their exports and export destinations, quantities and so on, for the period covering three months prior to entering into force of this regulation”.

This may then reveal whether or not AstraZeneca sent vaccines to Britain from one of its two vaccine plants in Europe, which it says have been hit by production glitches.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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