Thursday

4th Mar 2021

Coronavirus

EU gets vaccines boost amid fears over uneven global supply

  • The EU's vaccine strategy came under fire after the commission introduced a new control mechanism on vaccine exports (Photo: Nathan Forget)

More vaccines will be arriving in member states after two pharmaceutical companies agreed to increase their supply to the EU with millions of additional doses.

Following a heated dispute over delayed deliveries, UK-Swedish vaccine developer AstraZeneca has now committed to delivering nine million additional vaccine doses before March - while, as previously announced, Pfizer-BioNTech is expected to supply 75 million extra doses in the second quarter.

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However, the European Commission warned on Monday (1 February) that discussions with vaccines developers will continue to ensure "the timely delivery of doses".

The improvement by AstraZeneca is "a step forward" but "it is definitely not the amount which we expect to receive until the end of the first quarter, so of course discussions will continue," a commission spokesperson said.

AstraZeneca's new pledge to deliver a total of 40 million doses by the end of March is estimated to be half of what the company had originally committed to - before last month suddenly announcing EU countries will receive fewer jabs than ordered due to alleged production problems.

Reuters reported that the company's initial commitment was of at least 80 million doses, and possibly up to 120 million doses for this period.

In a response to critics over the slow and fragmented rollout of vaccines in the bloc, the commission said on Monday that some 18.5 million vaccine doses have already been administrated across member states.

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

But the BioNTech-Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines are so far the only jabs medically authorised in the EU.

New Zealand and WHO criticism

Meanwhile, the EU's vaccine strategy came under fire after the commission introduced last Friday its new control mechanism on vaccines exports - a move which leaves the door open to banning exports of vaccines, if deemed necessary.

This new scheme, which applies to the companies with whom the EU has signed agreements, will run only for the first quarter - but it might be extended.

New Zealand's prime minister Jacinda Ardern said that the EU was "wrong" to require companies to seek approval and authorisation before exporting vaccines.

"The world cannot afford vaccine nationalism right now," Ardern said on Sunday.

For his part, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also warned against "vaccine nationalism," or the seizing of the first batches of doses by richer states that can pay the most or the quickest.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum, he said that vaccine hoarding will "keep the pandemic burning and slow global economic recovery," besides being a "catastrophic moral failure" that could increase inequality across the globe.

Japan's vaccine rollout chief Taro Kono has also raised concerned about the new export control scheme put forward by the EU.

"It is understandable to put their own people first…But we are living on the same planet, and the supply chain now goes global," Kono said on Friday during an online event at Davos online summit.

Meanwhile, the commission's former top civil servant and current EU's ambassador to Austria, Martin Selmayr, tweeted on Sunday that thanks to the EU's vaccine strategy 12 million people have been vaccinated in three weeks while 128 countries have not yet started inoculating - including Japan and South Africa.

The EU has allocated more than €850m to WHO-led Covid-19 vaccine programme, Covax, which aims to distribute two billion vaccines around the world by the end of 2021.

Additionally, scientists have raised concerns over the fast-spreading variant of Covid-19, first detected in South Africa, being able to elude some vaccines - which could undermine global vaccination efforts to defeat the pandemic.

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