Saturday

17th Apr 2021

EU controls vaccine exports, as AstraZeneca jab approved

  • Meanwhile, the European Medicine Agency authorised the use of the vaccine developed by Astrazenca and Oxford in the EU (Photo: gov.bc.ca)

The European Commission adopted, on Friday (29 January), an export control mechanism on vaccines produced in EU countries - as a response to the shortfall of vaccines suddenly announced by the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca earlier this month.

"The aim is to provide greater clarity on vaccine production in the EU and their exports - this transparency has been lacking and is vital at this time," said EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

This follows several days of back and forth, with phone calls and meetings, previously described as unsatisfactory due to the "the lack of clarity" over AstraZeneca's delayed deliveries.

Now the companies, with whom the EU has signed agreements, will have to notify national authorities and the commission whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries to receive an authorisation.

"This is not a ban," that would be "the last option," EU officials said, adding that "there is a clear right for the EU and all member states to know where the vaccines are ending up".

For the contract with AstraZeneca, the European Commission has allocated €336m - although part of the funding has not been paid yet.

A group of countries, including Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland and the 92 low and middle-income countries involved in the World Health Organization-led Covax initiative, are excluded from this scheme.

Other countries such as the US, Canada, or the UK are not exempt - increasing concerns over a potential ban on vaccines to the UK.

"This is not Europe first. We are not in a race against any country. We want to reach a fair approach. This is our insurance policy," EU officials said.

The control scheme, which enters into force on Saturday, will run only for the first quarter - but it might be extended for some extra weeks.

Meanwhile, the European Medicine Agency (EMA) recommended on Friday the use of a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford in the EU, but acknowledged the lack of data on its effectiveness for senior citizens.

Germany's Robert Koch Institute said earlier that there was "insufficient data" to prove the vaccine's effectiveness in older populations.

The EU, on behalf of member states, has secured 300m doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, with an option for a further 100m doses.

"Best-effort" clause

Following months of growing pressure from MEPs and civil society, the commission finally published the redacted contract signed with AstraZeneca in August.

But key parts of the agreement remained confidential. For example, the number of doses that AstraZeneca has promised to the EU for the first quarter of this year.

Some "95 percent of the [redactions] come from the company," said a commission official.

So far, Brussels has refused to clarify how significant AstraZeneca's shortfall would be, but Reuters has reported that deliveries would be cut to 31 million doses - a reduction of 60 percent.

Earlier this week, the company's CEO Pascal Soriot said that the agreement was based on a "best-effort" basis - meaning there is no legal obligation to fulfil the order set up by the EU for the first quarter.

"Anyway, we didn't commit with the EU, by the way… We said we are going to make our best effort…But our contract is not a contractual commitment. It's a best effort," Soriot said in an interview.

EU officials, however, told reporters on Friday that the "best-effort" clause was "an objective legal standard" that could be measured by any judge, if necessary.

Additionally, Brussels said that differentiating the UK and EU supply chains is not foreseen in the contract, insisting that UK plants are not "optional" or "backup" but part of the contract.

The agreement with AstraZeneca foresees manufacturing in several plants in Europe - two in the UK, one in Belgium, one in Germany, and one in Italy.

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.

Analysis

The EU's vaccine strategy - the key points

As the EU Commission gets entangled in a dispute with one of the vaccine producers and gets heat for the perceived slow roll-out of the vaccines, we take a look at what the EU has done and not done.

Commission silent as Germany buys own vaccines

The European Commission refused to comment on whether a bilateral deal between Germany and BioNTech for 30 million additional vaccines is a breach of EU collective purchase agreements - which forbid member states from negotiating separate deals.

EU gets vaccines boost amid fears over uneven global supply

Pharmaceutical companies will increase their supply to member states with millions of additional doses, after a heated dispute over delayed deliveries. Meanwhile, the bloc's new control mechanism on vaccine exports faces global criticism amid fears of 'vaccine nationalism'.

Commission blames Irish border cock-up on trade chief

The EU Commission caused uproar in Ireland and the UK when - in a rush to agree on a new regulation to control vaccine exports from the EU - the bloc's executive triggered a clause in the Brexit divorce deal.

EU admits redaction error in AstraZeneca contract

The European Commission published a redacted version of the AstraZeneca contract - only for large parts to be uncovered by using the bookmark tool in Adobe Acrobat's Reader. "It was certainly not our intention for this to happen," it said.

News in Brief

  1. EU postpones decision on labelling gas 'sustainable'
  2. MEPs call for mass surveillance ban in EU public spaces
  3. Greek and Turkish ministers trade jibes in Ankara
  4. Biden repeats opposition to Russia-Germany pipeline
  5. Navalny in danger, letter warns EU foreign ministers
  6. Lithuania keen to use Denmark's AstraZeneca vaccines
  7. Gas plants largest source of power-sector emissions
  8. Study: Higher risk of blood clots from Covid than vaccines

Feature

Italy's mafias - boosted by Covid, now eyeing EU's billions

Italy's various mafias are allegedly exploiting the chaos caused by the Covid-19 emergency to infiltrate even deeper into sectors where they are already present, such as healthcare, mortuary services, and waste disposal (both medical and non-medical).

EU missed March vaccination target for priority groups

The EU failed to reach its target of having at least 80 percent of the elderly and healthcare workers vaccinated by the end of March. According to estimates, 55 percent will be vaccinated by the end of June.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. US rejects Slovenia-linked plan to break up Bosnia
  2. Ukraine urges Borrell to visit Russia front line
  3. Could US sanctions hit Russia vaccine sales to EU?
  4. Polish court pushes out critical ombudsman
  5. Political crises in Romania and Bulgaria amid third wave
  6. Von der Leyen's summer plans undisclosed, after Ukraine snub
  7. Over a million EU citizens back farm-animal cage ban
  8. Three options for West on Putin's Ukraine build-up

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us