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4th Jul 2022

EU against 'outright ban' of vaccine exports before summit

  • EU Commission vice president Maroš Šefčovič said 41.5 million doses of vaccines have been exported to 33 countries from EU member states (Photo: European Commission)

The EU Commission will on Wednesday (23 March) revise its oversight of vaccine exports, ahead of a videoconference of EU leaders on Thursday on the issue.

The EU executive has been threatening to ban exports of vaccines, as it struggles to make sure one of its suppliers of Covid-19 jabs, AstraZeneca, honours its pledges on delivery.

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The commission revealed little on how exactly the commission wants to overhaul its vaccine transparency mechanism, introduced only in January, in order to get the full picture of vaccine flows through the continent.

But commission vice president Maroš Šefčovič on Tuesday said it would not be an outright ban.

"We are not seeking an outright ban on vaccine exports but we expect manufacturers to live up to their contractual obligations," he told journalists after an online meeting of EU affairs ministers.

Šefčovič said the EU is "inviting other partners to be as forthcoming, as transparent as open" as the bloc is.

He said the transparency revealed a "quite telling" picture.

41.5 million doses of vaccines have been exported to 33 countries from EU member states, while 70 million doses have been delivered to EU countries - which administered 52 million, he said.

From the end of January - when the transparency mechanism was set up - until 16 March, member states approved 314 requests for export authorisation, and rejected just one, Šefčovič added.

The one delivery blocked was of AstraZeneca vaccines to Australia, where Šefčovič said the different rate of vaccination between the EU and Australia underpinned the move, on top of AstraZeneca not delivering its promised number of jabs to Europe.

He said the EU wants to open a discussion on "reciprocity and proportionality".

"Do we get the fair deal from pharmaceutical companies, from our partners, is the supply to other countries proportional to the effort the EU and the manufacturing side in the EU are making in comparison to the vaccination rate evolving across the EU member states? This is what we want to hear from our partners," he added.

Šefčovič said that "our partners should simply understand that we go through this very difficult phase, we want our right fair share of vaccines which are manufactured on the territory of EU member states".

The EU could abolish a list of more than 90 countries that are currently exempt from requiring vaccine export authorisations, Bloomberg reported.

Member states are divided on what a broader export ban should mean.

German chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday said "we must be very careful with general export bans at this stage."

"Instead we will have to look very closely at supply chains," she added.

Ireland, the Netherlands, and Belgium have also urged caution on any export ban.

Not exporting

The EU's main problem is with AstraZeneca but has also been irked by the UK, which is the largest recipient of jabs made in the EU, receiving 10 million doses so far out of the close to 42 million exported from the EU.

Sandra Gallina, the senior commission official who negotiated the vaccine contracts, told MEPs on Tuesday that the real problem in the first quarter for vaccine deliveries stemmed from AstraZeneca not delivering what it has promised.

"We were expecting deliveries in the hundreds [of millions] and we are not even getting a quarter of such deliveries," she said, adding that the failure to deliver hit particularly hard since AstraZeneca promised to deliver in the first two quarters 300 million jabs.

AstraZeneca is at the moment not exporting, Gallina told MEPs, but added that it had five production plants in the contract and is producing in one plant.

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"This is not about banning vaccine exports, this is about making sure that companies deliver on their commitments to the member states and the EU that are inscribed in contracts," commission spokesman Eric Mamer said.

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