europe

EU means business over Covid vaccine exports, says Von der Leyen


The EU “means business”, Ursula von der Leyen has said, as the bloc doubled down on plans for tighter monitoring of vaccine exports to countries outside of the union, such as the UK.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum, the president of the European commission said the EU had invested billions and “companies must now deliver” to the 27 member states.

The EU’s executive branch will bring forward details of a new transparency register by the end of the week to oblige pharmaceutical companies to notify the commission of all vaccine exports.

Speaking on Tuesday morning, Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn, had described the plan variously as an “export restriction” and a permit system to ensure the EU retained its fair share of vaccines produced on its territory.

In her speech on Tuesday, Von der Leyen said the EU needed to see a return on its advance orders. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to be authorised by the European Medicines Agency on Friday.

Von der Leyen said: “The EU and others helped with money to build research capacities and production facilities. Europe invested billions to help develop the world‘s first Covid-19 vaccines. To create a truly global common good. And now, the companies must deliver. They must honour their obligations. This is why we will set up a vaccine export transparency mechanism. Europe is determined to contribute. But it also means business.”

AstraZeneca had informed the commission last Friday that there would be a 60% shortfall in its vaccine deliveries this quarter as a result of production problems at a site in Belgium. EU officials have informed the company that it must honour its contractual obligations to supply about 80m doses by the end of March.


Reuters reported on Tuesday that officials had requested that AstraZeneca divert doses from the UK to EU member states to make up on the shortfall.

A commission spokesman said: “We cannot comment on comments, however, the commission always insisted on a precise delivery schedule on the basis of which member states should be planning their vaccination programs, subject to the granting of a conditional marketing authorisation. The matter will be discussed at tomorrow’s steering board meeting. We will re-evaluate the state of play after this meeting.”

On Monday, the EU health commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, said she had received unsatisfactory answers over the new delivery schedule. She proposed that “an export transparency mechanism be put in place, as soon as possible”.

AstraZeneca produces much of its vaccine in the UK, but the country is also reliant on the export of Pfizer/BioNTech doses from a laboratory in Belgium, raising fears of a potential breakdown in distribution.

Britain’s vaccine minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said he was confident Pfizer would deliver the number of coronavirus injections needed in the UK.

A spokesperson for Von der Leyen declined to lay out how the new transparency register would work but said the main purpose was not to block exports but to monitor them. “Let me just emphasise the word that is important here is transparency. This is not about blocking, this is about knowing what the companies are exporting or will export to markets outside of the European Union.”

Downing Street also sought to play down any potential row, saying ministers did not foresee any disruption to UK vaccine supplies.

“AstraZeneca are committed to delivering 2m doses a week to the UK, and we’re not expecting any changes to that,” Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said. “We are confident in our supply, and anybody who has booked an appointment or has been asked to come forward for a vaccination should do so.”

They declined to discuss what the UK might do if the EU did attempt to curb vaccine exports, saying: “I’m not going to get into hypotheticals.” Pressed on this, he said: “I would point you to the EU about any questions about their policy.”



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