EU extends vaccine exports checks by three months amid Astrazeneca row
The European Commission has extended export controls on Covid vaccines until the end of June, amid an ongoing row with the UK over “vaccine nationalism”.
The export authorisation scheme was introduced in January amidst a separate dispute over low supplies of the Astrazeneca jab within the EU.
The scheme, which was originally intended to run until March, allows customs agencies to block Covid-19 vaccine exports out of the bloc unless they receive emergency authorisation from national governments within the EU.
The scheme will now be extended until the end of June, the European Commission announced today.
Blocked by the bloc
It comes after Italy last week announced it had blocked the shipment of 250,000 doses of the Astrazeneca vaccines to Australia, after the British-Swedish drug manufacturer failed to meet its EU contract commitments.
The UK earlier this week criticised the move, sparking a fresh row between the EU and Britain over so-called vaccine nationalism.
Health secretary Matt Hancock warned that there was a need to “oppose vaccine protectionism in all its forms”, adding that “the idea of one part of the world blocking exports is a mistake”.
His comments were met with furious backlash from European Commission president Charles Michel, who accused the UK of enforcing an “outright ban” on vaccine exports.
Ministers slammed the EU official’s comments as “completely false”, with the Prime Minister taking to the Commons yesterday to insist that the UK has not “blocked the export of a single Covid-19 vaccine”.
“The whole House can be proud of the UK’s vaccination programme, with over 22.5m people now having received their first dose across the UK. We can also be proud of the support the UK has given to the international Covid response, including the £548m we have donated to Covax,” said Boris Johnson.
“I therefore wish to correct the suggestion from the European Council president that the UK has blocked vaccine exports. Let me be clear: we have not blocked the export of a single Covid-19 vaccine or vaccine components,” Johnson added.
“This pandemic has put us all on the same side in the battle for global health; we oppose vaccine nationalism in all its forms.”
However, Michel doubled down on his comments today, telling Politico it was “unfair” to single out the EU for controlling Covid vaccines.
“I confirm what I said because there are different ways to impose a limitation or a ban. There are different ways, not only via one executive order or via one legislation,” he said.
“It’s unfair to attack the European Union on this topic, saying that we would choose vaccination nationalism or protectionism. This is not the truth. The facts are the facts. At a certain point, it’s my call for more transparency. How many doses did they export?”
His comments come as the EU faces mounting backlash over the sluggish vaccine rollout across the continent.
An average of just 7.5 per cent of EU citizens have received their first dose of a Covid vaccine, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker. The figure is as low as 6.1 per cent in France and 5.8 per cent in Italy.
In comparison, more than 23.5m people in Britain — equivalent to 35 per cent of the UK population — have received their first dose of a jab so far.
British health officials earlier this week predicted the UK vaccine rollout will hit an average of more than 500,000 doses a day from next week, following a boost in supply of Astrazeneca jabs.
The revelation sparked fury across the continent, after the EU’s slow vaccine rollout was hampered by reduced supply from both Astrazeneca and Pfizer.
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Pfizer has not yet delivered around 10m doses that were due in December, leaving the bloc around a third short of agreed doses.
Meanwhile, the EU earlier this week said it will urge the US to permit the export of millions of doses of the Astrazeneca vaccine to Europe as Brussels scrambles to paper over supply shortfalls.