Desperation: EU Boss Demands Drugs Company Deliver UK Vaccines to Europe, But Bans Exports from Bloc

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen addresses the press ending the second day special European Council summit in Brussels on February 21, 2020. - Time was called on the summit after two days and a night of talks that failed to narrow stubborn differences between a handful …
KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen demanded on Friday that AstraZeneca vaccines made at UK plants be sent to the EU to make up for a shortfall in production on the Continent. Hours later, Brussels also authorised banning exports of the medication to non-EU countries.

Publishing a redacted copy of the contract on Friday, the head of the EU’s executive arm claimed that she was entitled to British output produced under a UK government contract meant for British use to make up for the bloc’s shortage.

“There are binding orders and the contract is crystal clear,” von der Leyen told German radio station Deutschlandfunk, according to The Guardian.

The former German defence minister also claimed that the “best effort” delivery arrangements were now “in the past”, saying: “Once a vaccine is there, there were very clear rules regarding amounts as well as timeframes – they are in the contract – and there are also locations where the vaccine should be produced.”

The Commission’s spokesman Eric Mamer reiterated demands for British-made vaccines, saying: “We have always said that indeed there are a number of plants which are mentioned in the contract that we have with AstraZeneca, some of which are located in the UK, and it is foreseen that these plants will contribute to the effort of AstraZeneca to deliver doses to the European Union. There is absolutely no question for us that this is what the contract specifies.”

Four labs produce the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine: one in Belgium, one in the Netherlands, and two in the UK (in Staffordshire and Oxford).

The British government responded that it expected its contractual arrangements to be “facilitated”, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying: “AstraZeneca has clearly stated they will be able to provide 2 million vaccine doses a week and we’ve said we will get that to people as quickly as possible.”

The same day, the EU approved for use the AstraZeneca vaccine and also confirmed it would enact controls that allow the bloc to block the export of vaccines to non-EU countries. The UK still has an outstanding contract for 3.5 million doses from Pfizer’s Belgian plant.

Earlier this week, AstraZeneca said that due to production problems at the Belgian plant, the first yield of vaccines for the EU would only be one-quarter of what was expected. The CEO, Pascal Soriot, later told European media that as the UK had a head-start on production and could iron out any problems with the process, British plants were the most productive. While European plants, which started much later, had “the lowest productivity in the network”.

AstraZeneca offered the EU an additional eight million doses on Friday, according to The Times, which the bloc rejected, demanding that the company honour its “binding contract”.

France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands had agreed on a deal with AstraZeneca in June; however, the Commission demanded to take over all vaccine negotiations on behalf of the entire bloc. A final agreement was not signed for another two months, at the end of August.

In recent days, European media have criticised the EU, blaming the vaccine crisis on the Commission.

German newspaper Die Zeit called the drama “the best advertisement for Brexit”, continuing: “It is acting slowly, bureaucratically, and protectionist. And if something goes wrong, it’s everyone else’s fault. This is how many Britons see the EU, and so the prejudices were confirmed at the beginning of the week.”

While Bild, Germany’s biggest-selling newspaper, hailed “Brexit Boris” as a “vaccination master”, criticising the “junk EU” for waiting months to secure a contract.

Von der Leyen reportedly refused the tabloid’s request for an interview, with Bild printing the unanswered questions in the piece: “Why did it take so long to agree contracts?”

“Why were no specific delivery dates agreed?”

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