EU Threatens to Restrict Exports of Vaccines, Blocking Shipments to UK

MANSFIELD, ENGLAND - JANUARY 25: Geoff Holland, 90, and Jenny Holland, 86, from Mansfield receive their injections of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at a former Wickes store in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, which is being used as a covid vaccination centre on January 25, 2021 in Mansfield, England. The couple, who met …
Joe Giddens - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Brussels has ordered all drugs manufacturers producing vaccines against the Chinese coronavirus in the bloc to inform them before exporting to non-EU nations, giving the bloc powers to stop exports to countries including the UK.

The move came as a result of anger in Brussels when Pfizer announced that it would be providing 50 million fewer doses — a reduction of 60 per cent — to the political bloc due to manufacturing problems at its Belgian labs.

On Monday, Brussels, the capital of the European Union which hosts many of the bloc’s administrative power structures, told Pfizer and other drugs firms operating in the Union that it must supply “early notification” of exports of vaccines, according to The Times.

The bloc’s health commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, had complained that Pfizer’s notification that it cannot deliver on time was “not acceptable to the EU”.

“All companies producing vaccines against Covid-19 will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to [non-EU] countries,” Ms Kyriakides added, threatening to “take any action required to protect its citizens and rights”.

Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn, told broadcaster ZDF on Tuesday morning that the measures would enable Brussels to block exports which it deemed could threaten regional stocks, much like how the bloc stopped exports of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in March 2020 as it was unable to provide enough for its own member-states.

Mr Spahn claimed that this was “not about Europe first but about Europe’s fair share”. Germany was embroiled in a scandal earlier this month over accusations that it was taking a Germany First approach by circumnavigating the collective purchasing regime adopted by the bloc and securing its own additional supplies.

France also faced criticism at the beginning of January for managing to organise the vaccination of just 516 people out of a population of 67 million in the first week of their vaccine’s rollout.

The UK was the first Western nation to approve a vaccine — the Pfizer-BioNTech shot — for use, and later approved two other vaccinations. It has vaccinated 10 per cent of the population; the EU, just two per cent.

Britain’s national distribution of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, of which the government has ordered 100 million doses, is unaffected, as it is produced in the United Kingdom. The UK had, however, started a mass rollout of the Pfizer vaccination, which have been dubbed the “workhorses” of Britain’s inoculation programme, having ordered 40 million applications, 3.5 million expected to be delivered in the next three weeks.

The UK appears on track to inoculate the country’s most vulnerable groups by mid-February, which could facilitate plans for easing lockdown. But British ministers reportedly fear that the bloc could try to tie up shipments of the Pfizer shot in paperwork, slowing that progress. Around half a million doses could already be delayed due to delays at Pfizer’s Belgian facilities.

Conservative MP David Jones told The Telegraph that “quite clearly they’ve had a very cumbersome procurement process which has resulted in this. The fact is we were far more astute in our purchasing process.

“Frankly, it seems like a rather childish and spiteful way to behave. This looks awfully like blackmail, which is pretty disreputable and shows why we were right to leave the EU.”

Brexit leader and Reform UK party chief Nigel Farage said: “The European Commission wants to regulate the export of Covid vaccines. Their jealousy of Brexit Britain knows no bounds.”

Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News on Tuesday that he is “confident that the Pfizer vaccine will be delivered”.

Mr Zahawi continued: “Pfizer has made sure that they have always delivered for us, they will continue to do so.

“They have made a very important announcement on the equitable supply of the whole world, including the European Union, and I’m sure they will deliver for the European Union, the United Kingdom and for the rest of the world.

“We have got 367m vaccines that we have ordered from seven different suppliers, so I’m confident we will meet our target and continue to vaccinate the whole of the adult population by the autumn.”


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