European Union Threatens to Block Export of up to 19 Million Vaccines to the UK

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the EU Council President, holds a video conference call with Turkey's President in Brussels on March 19, 2021. - The call comes as the two neighbours seek to make good on improved ties after a spike in tensions last year over maritime …
STEPHANIE LECOCQ/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The European Union may block the export of up to 19 million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, as the bloc continues to struggle to innoculate its population.

In comments published on Saturday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen threatened to seize control of the production of the AstraZeneca jab if the British-Swedish pharma company does not prioritise European contracts ahead of others.

“We have the possibility to forbid planned exports. That is the message to AstraZeneca: You fulfil your contract with Europe before you start delivering to other countries,” von der Leyen said, per DW.

“I cannot justify to European citizens why we export millions of vaccine doses to countries that produce vaccines themselves — and from whom nothing comes back,” the Commission president said, adding: “And I can barely justify exports to countries that have a much higher vaccination rate and far fewer infections than the EU.”

Brussels has claimed that the pharmaceutical giant has only delivered 30 per cent of the vaccines promised to the EU, while nine million doses have been shipped from European factories to the UK and a further one million doses to the United States. The bloc was three months behind Britain in signing contracts for the vaccine, according to AstraZeneca’s CEO, significantly delaying the European vaccine rollout.

The United Kingdom is expected to receive some 19 million doses of the vaccine over the coming weeks; however, those vaccines are produced in Europe.

A senior British government official said that the move would be illegal, telling the Mail on Sunday: “The reality is our contract with AstraZeneca is rock-solid and better than the EU’s, and we’re only getting what we helped to develop and pay for.”

Earlier this month, the Italian government became the first EU member-state to ban the export of vaccines, blocking a shipment of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca jab intended for Australia.

Ms von der Leyen later warned that Italy’s action was “not a one-off“, predicting other EU countries will follow suit in seizing vaccine supplies. The pronouncement came after false accusations from eurocrats that Britain was blocking exports of the AstraZeneca jab.

On Thursday, Brexit leader Nigel Farage said that in banning vaccine export, the EU had shown its true colours, saying: “For years I said the European Union was the new communism… Now they have proved it by seizing the means of production.”

The president of the Institute for the World Economy (IFW), Gabriel Felbermayr, also criticised Europe’s protectionist tactics, telling Reuters that “export bans are a very bad idea”.

“For the production of vaccines, we in the EU are heavily dependent on imports from other countries. It is impossible to imagine what would happen if the trading partners for their part restrict the export of critical preliminary products,” Felbermayr explained.

“Instead of protectionism, we need cross-border cooperation in order to resolve the bottlenecks as quickly as possible,” he added.

In response to the EU’s expected export bans, British ministers are said to be drawing up plans to ramp up vaccine production in the UK in order to mollify shortfalls from Europe, according to The Telegraph.

“There is a lot of domestic production already. We are always looking at ways we can increase vaccine production in the UK. The Government is looking at ways vaccine supplies can be increased all the time,” a Downing Street source told the newspaper.

A cabinet minister added: “The EU has monumentally ballsed this up. Madness! And then to play games and have a pop at AstraZeneca through bitterness and opportunism. And now it’s coming back to bite them because they cannot get their population to take it. We will be the only coronavirus free country in Europe in August or September.”

To date, major European powers France, Germany, and Italy have only been able to vaccinate around 12 per cent of their respective populations. Countries across the EU have also begun reimposing strict coronavirus lockdown measures amid rising cases on the continent.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

.

Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.