EU threatens to block exports over AstraZeneca delivery delays

January 26, 2021
EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides  making a point in this file photo.
EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides making a point in this file photo.

BRUSSELS — Brussels threatened on Monday to block exports of COVID-19 vaccines outside of the bloc over the AstraZeneca's announcement that deliveries will be reduced for a few weeks.

The pharmaceutical giant told the European Commission on Friday there would be delivery delays in the first quarter of this year — a week after Pfizer made a similar announcement.

The EU Steering Board — made up of health officials from the Commission and member states — held a virtual meeting with AstraZeneca on Monday afternoon to discuss the issue but "the answers of the company have not been satisfactory so far," Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said in a statement.

A second meeting was held on Monday evening. "The European Union will take any action required to protect its citizens," Kyriakides said in the statement.

She said the company's announcement that it intends to supply "considerable fewer doses" than agreed "is not acceptable", stressing that the bloc had "pre-financed the development of the vaccine and the production and wants to see the return."

"We want clarity on transactions and full transparency concerning the export of vaccines from the EU.

"In the future, all companies producing vaccines against COVID-19 in the EU will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries," she added. Humanitarian deliveries would not be affected.

AstraZeneca has a plant in the Netherlands, Pfizer has one in Belgium. The EU has secured about 2.3 billion doses of vaccines through Advance purchase Agreements struck with six pharmaceutical companies, including 300 million doses from AstraZeneca.

The EMA has not yet approved the jab, which has already been rolled out in the UK, India, Mexico and Brazil. The European regulator is expected to give its approval on Jan. 29.

The EU's vaccination campaign, which started in late December has so far relied on the jabs developed by Pfizer/BioNtech and Moderna.

But deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine to EU member states have also slowed down over the previous two weeks and until at least mid-February. The company said the reduced deliveries were to allow for it to ramp up manufacturing capacity but member states, putting further pressure on member states, which have come under heavy criticism for the slow roll-out of the vaccine.

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen spoke to AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot on Monday morning, her spokesman Eric Mamer confirmed. "She made it clear that she expects AstraZeneca to deliver on the contractual arrangement foreseen in the Advance Purchase Agreement," he said.

The vaccine roll-out has been unequal across the bloc's 27 countries. As of Jan. 24, just under 8.5 million of the EU's 450 million inhabitants had received at least one dose, according to the tally kept by Our World in Data.

Germany, Italy, Spain and France have each vaccinated over one million people but Malta and Denmark have inoculated the highest share of their population with 4.2 and 3.5 doses administered per 100 people — the average for the whole EU is 1.89 doses per 100 population. — Euronews

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