European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen may make a proposal to tighten the EU's coronavirus vaccine export regulations in order to give Brussels more power to block shipments, including to Britain and other vaccine-producing countries, the news outlet Politico has cited unnamed sources as saying.
The sources claimed the bloc's revised COVID-19 vaccine-related rules would be presented by von der Leyen during the weekly College of Commissioners meeting later on Wednesday.
One of the insiders argued the new rules would add several provisions to cover the concepts of "reciprocity" and "proportionality", meaning that the EU's vaccine shipments could be blocked to countries that don't show reciprocity by exporting domestically-made doses.
Additionally, no EU vaccine supplies will be delivered to those countries that have achieved much higher vaccination rates among their populations than the EU.
The insider asserted that the new mechanism would potentially allow the European Commission to block shipments of the AstraZeneca, BioNTech/Pfizer, and Moderna vaccines to the UK.
The claims come a week after Ursula von der Leyen threatened to take tougher measures to curb the EU's exports of COVID-19 vaccines, adding the bloc wants to make sure it gets its fair share of the drugs.
"If this situation does not change, we will have to reflect on how to make exports to vaccine-producing countries dependent on their level of openness. […] We are ready to use whatever tools we need to deliver on that", she told reporters.
Hancock Warns EU Over Vaccine Supply Contracts
Von der Leyen spoke as British Health Secretary Matt Hancock issued a stern warning to the EU, saying that Brussels must respect the law regarding COVID-19 vaccine supply contracts and that there would be repercussions if the bloc acts "illegally". The warning followed threats by the EU to restrict the exports of coronavirus vaccines to Britain.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also addressed the issue, telling Reuters he thinks the European Commission's move "takes some explaining because the world's watching", adding that the step "also cuts across the direct assurances that we had" from EU authorities.
"We expect those assurances and legal, contracted supply to be respected", the foreign secretary said.
Von der Leyen earlier made it clear the EU would be prepared to suspend vaccine deliveries to Britain unless the bloc receives a "fair share" of shots from the UK.
"It is hard to explain to our citizens why vaccines produced in the EU are going to other countries that are also producing vaccines, while hardly anything is coming back. All options are on the table. We are in the crisis of the century and I'm not ruling out anything because we have to make sure Europeans are vaccinated as soon as possible", she said in an interview with Reuters.
The Brussels-London row comes as a number of European countries, including Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, have suspended the use of the Oxford-produced AstraZeneca vaccine amid reports of blood clotting as a side effect of taking the jab.