The UK has today warned Brussels that banning vaccine exports would be “very damaging” for the EU’s reputation, with defence secretary Ben Wallace telling the bloc that the “world is watching”.
Wallace said today that the EU’s threats to block Pfizer vaccine shipments to Britain, which was inflamed political tensions, could “undermine” vaccine supplies across the globe.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a group of German newspapers yesterday that the EU has “the possibility to forbid planned exports” if AstraZeneca does not send more of its UK-manufactured vaccines to the bloc.
The pharma giant said delays to vaccines slated to go to the EU had been because of the “complexity of the production process”.
Von der Leyen said: “That is the message to AstraZeneca, ‘You fulfil your contract with Europe before you start delivering to other countries’.”
Her escalation of the ongoing UK-EU vaccine row comes before a summit of European leaders on Thursday.
Speaking to Sky News, Wallace said: “The EU will know the rest of the world is looking at the Commission on how it conducts itself on this.
“If contracts get broken that is a very damaging thing to happen for a trading bloc that prides itself on the rule of law, that prides itself on following contracts and on being an open trading bloc and I think the Commission knows deep down the world is watching deep down.
He added: “The one thing we know about vaccine production is it collaborative.
“How the vaccine is manufactured involves countries not just in Europe, not just in the UK but further afield in places such as India. If the Commission starts to unpick that they’ll undermine not just their own citizens chances of getting vaccines but also many countries sound the world.”
The EU’s vaccine rollout continues to struggle as major nations like Germany, the Netherlands and France have only jabbed around one-in-ten citizens.
The UK, on the other hand, has now vaccinated over half of its adult population.
The EU’s latest threat to block vaccine shipments comes after a group of countries in the bloc made the quickly overturned decision last week to ban the AstraZeneca vaccine over purported incidences of jab-related blood clots.
The European medicines regulator found there to be no evidence of increased blood clots from the vaccine.
Figures show that people across the EU are now wary of taking the AstraZeneca vaccine, with only 20 per cent of French people saying they would accept it and millions of doses going unused across the continent.
French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this year falsely called the UK jab “quasi-ineffective” against over-65s.
France is now only allowing over-55s to take the vaccine, after earlier banning it for over-65s.
Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, told the BBC that the EU’s vaccine rollout has been “completely crackers”.
In reaction to these comments, European Commissioner Mairead McGuinness said “none of us have had a great Covid”.
She told the BBC: “I think we need to put our hands up and say we were not prepared for this global pandemic, we did not do our best at the beginning, but we’re doing our best now to protect our citizens.”