Europe’s intention to control the exports of COVID-19 vaccines to foreign countries risks retaliation measures from other regions, the EU pharma industry has warned.
Europe’s fight to secure COVID-19 vaccine supplies intensified on Thursday (28 January) when the European Union warned drug companies such as AstraZeneca that it would use all legal means or even block exports unless they agreed to deliver shots as promised.
The EU, whose member states are far behind Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States in rolling out vaccines, is scrambling to get supplies just as the West’s biggest drugmakers slow deliveries to the bloc due to production problems.
As vaccination centres in Germany, France and Spain cancelled or delayed appointments, the EU publicly rebuked Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca for failing to deliver and even asked if it could divert supplies from Britain.
European Council President Charles Michel said in a letter to four EU leaders that the EU should explore legal means to ensure supplies of vaccines it contracted to buy, if negotiations with companies over delayed deliveries are unsuccessful.
“If no satisfactory solution can be found, I believe we should explore all options and make use of all legal means and enforcement measures at our disposal under the Treaties,” he said in the Jan. 27 letter.
The EU pharma industry association issued a stark warning in response.
“Risking retaliatory measures from other regions at this crucial moment in the fight against COVID-19 is not in anyone’s best interest,” the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) said in a statement.
Amid a growing row with British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, the EU has proposed to set up a COVID-19 vaccine export monitoring system, which will allow EU member states’ authorities to ban shipments out of the bloc if they are not “legitimate”, news agency AFP quoted EU officials as saying on Thursday (28 January).
The measure will apply to all pharmaceutical companies with manufacturing sites on EU territory. Particularly, all COVID-19 vaccines’ exports will have to be authorised by the member states’ authorities which host their premises.
Brussels believes that currently there is no transparency in the process and fears that vaccines initially earmarked for EU member states have been sold to third countries at higher prices.
Although the details of the Commission’s proposal are not clear yet, the EU pharma industry said any such move would be detrimental to Europe’s vaccination campaign. “If any mechanism does not allow for complete automaticity in clearance of exports, or otherwise goes beyond transmission of factual information meeting transparency expectations, this would risk being a restriction of exports, and would undermine the supply of vaccines in Europe and around the world,” EFPIA said.
“Global supply chains are key to delivering vaccines to protect citizens against COVID-19. It is vital that any measures proposed by the Commission and the Member States do not restrict, hold back, or have other negative impacts on exports of vaccines or the import of key vaccine manufacturing supplies.”
Negotiating black spots
The contract signed between the EU and Astrazeneca is expected to be published in the next few days. But even on this, negotiations are currently taking place.
The Commission is now waiting for the company to say which parts of the contract will be redacted and which can go public. The EU executive wants as much information as possible to be made public, , EURACTIV understands.
However, when EU lawmakers were granted access to the contract signed between pharmaceutical company CureVac and the European Commission earlier this month, nearly a quarter of the contract had been redacted.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]