Monday

25th Oct 2021

EU to control vaccine exports in row over delays

  • Brussels has demanded an explanation from AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech about delivery delays (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission wants to control exports of coronavirus vaccines to outside the bloc, after manufacturers said EU countries will receive fewer jabs than ordered due to alleged production problems.

"Europe invested billions to help develop the world's first Covid-19 vaccines," the commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday (26 January) during this year's virtual version of the World Economic Forum.

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"And now, the companies must deliver. They must honour their obligations," she added.

In a move perceived as a sign of distrust towards the pharmaceutical companies, the commission has proposed setting up an "export transparency mechanism" which would require companies, with whom the EU has signed agreements, to inform in advance about any international shipments. The idea has been strongly supported by Germany.

German health minister Jens Spahn told ZDF broadcaster that his country is in favour of "vaccines leaving the EU needing a licence, so that we at least know what is being produced and what is leaving Europe - and if it is leaving Europe, whether there is then a fair distribution".

"I can understand that there are production problems but then it must affect everyone in the same way," he added, referring to the fact that no delay is expected in the UK.

Last week, AstraZeneca said that the number of initial doses for member states ordered for the first quarter of 2021 would be lower due to "reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain".

EU officials have so far refused to clarify how significant this shortfall would be, but Reuters has reported that deliveries would be cut to 31 million doses - a reduction of 60 percent.

The EU has invested €2.7bn in the rapid development and production of several vaccines.

Germany challenges AstraZeneca

The vaccine jointly developed by Oxford and AstraZeneca is expected to be approved on Friday (29 January) by the European Medicine Agency (EMA).

However, a bombshell story in German business daily Handelsblatt on Monday night claimed that the EMA's assessment of AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to show the jab is only 8 percent effective among people over 65 years old.

The company has already dismissed the story, calling it "completely incorrect".

Currently, the BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are the only jabs authorised in the EU.

Earlier this month, Pfizer also announced delays to their deliveries to the EU for the first quarter of this year.

'Unacceptable'

Following the news of AstraZeneca's production shortfall, the commission has been in a row over the company's sudden cut to deliveries - amid fears over delays potentially undermining vaccines programmes across the bloc.

Earlier on Monday, there was a phone call between Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and the company's CEO Pascal Soriot in which she reminded AstraZeneca that "the EU has invested significant amounts in the company upfront precisely to ensure production is ramped up even before the conditional market authorisation is delivered".

The discussion was followed by two meetings - with commission officials, national authorities and AstraZeneca representatives - that resulted in "dissatisfaction" given "the lack of clarity and insufficient explanations," EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides confirmed.

EU officials have now requested a new detailed planning of vaccine deliveries from AstraZeneca as the previously revised timetable was considered "unacceptable" for the EU.

Reuters reported that AstraZeneca had proposed the EU to bring forward to 7 February (instead of mid-February) the start of deliveries, but falling short of offering to increase supplies.

There is another meeting scheduled for Wednesday (27 January) in which parties are expected to discuss further the matter.

Meanwhile, the EU has a target of vaccinating at least 70 percent of the adult population by the summer.

The commission, on behalf of member states, has sealed deals with six companies for up to 2.3 billion vaccine doses.

EU leaders to discuss vaccine certificates

While some member states hope vaccine certificates could revive tourism, EU officials point out that it is not clear if vaccinated people can still carry the virus and infect others.

EU-AstraZeneca row flares up after vaccines shortfall

"The view that the company is not obliged to deliver because we signed a 'best effort agreement' is neither correct nor acceptable," said EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides, after the company's CEO tried to justified delayed deliveries to the EU.

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