Ursula von der Leyen has threatened to ban exports of AstraZeneca vaccines produced on EU soil if the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company doesn’t come through with promised deliveries to the bloc ahead of other destinations, reports The Telegraph.
“We have the option of banning a planned export. That's the message to AstraZeneca: you fulfil your contract with Europe first before you start delivering to other countries,” the EU chief was quoted as saying in an interview with Germany's Funke media group.
We will continue to work so that Europe gets its fair share.— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) March 17, 2021
We will invest even further in Europe’s production capacities, beyond this acute phase.
And we will ensure long-term supply, with trusted companies. pic.twitter.com/HqVrAbVn5v
As tensions spiral in the ongoing vaccine row, the President of the European Commission has underscored that AstraZeneca had delivered only 30 percent of the 90 million vaccine doses it had promised for the first quarter of the year.
‘All Options on the Table’
Earlier, von der Leyen threatened to invoke emergency powers to block European exports of COVID-19 vaccines.
“The EU has been exporting vaccines in support of global cooperation. But open roads run in both directions. We have to be able to explain to the people in Europe how it is that we deliver to the whole world but we have difficulties within the union. We export to 30 countries but nothing comes back from countries that do produce and that has to be looked at,” she said during a press conference on 17 March.
The EU chief urged “reciprocity and proportionality” in exports, issuing a veiled threat to use “whatever tool we need to deliver on that”, and emphasising that “all options are on the table”.
The European Commission President highlighted that the EU has so far exported 41 million doses to 33 different countries.
The EU has been plagued with production problems of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines. In January, the bloc set up a system of controls on exports requiring jab manufacturers contracted to supply Europe to declare if they intend to export doses outside the bloc.
Third Wave Fears
The recent ramping up of the vaccine row comes as the European Union struggles to speed up its sluggish COVID-19 inoculation campaign while battling a surge in infection rates.
Coronavirus cases have been spiking across EU member states, with France and Poland reintroducing partial lockdowns amid fears of a third wave.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned it is likely that the country will now need to apply an "emergency brake" to re-impose lockdown restrictions.
The European Union has been criticised for the slow pace of coronavirus vaccinations, with less than 12 percent of the population reported to have received the vaccine, compared with nearly 40 percent in the UK.
Tremendously proud of colleagues who are still maintaining the highest first dose and second dose vaccination rates in Wales - higher than the overall rate for Wales, for England and for the UK.— Adrian Osborne #KeepPowysSafe 🏳️🌈 (@NHSAdrianO) March 19, 2021
A busy week this week sees thousands more being vaccinated across the county. pic.twitter.com/xhh37i1vYE
Britain does not rely on exports of AstraZeneca from the EU, as a majority of the UK's 100 million jab order from the pharma giant is made on its soil, with approximately 10 mln made in India.
Deflecting criticism, AstraZeneca has blamed production delays at its EU plants in Belgium and the Netherlands for the sluggish shipments of jabs to the EU.
However, European officials are irate over the fact that while failing to live up to its commitments to the bloc, the company has been able to fulfil its UK contract in full.
Another strong vaccination day for the US with 2.58 million doses administered, above the 2.5 mln rolling average.— Eric Topol (@EricTopol) March 19, 2021
With these vaccines fully effective against B.1.1.7 (UK variant) and evidence that spread is picking up, would be ideal to get even more aggressive pic.twitter.com/LUcgR0sWbA
AstraZeneca has also suggested that the fact that EU jab contracts were signed later than with the UK contributed to problems with supplying the vaccine.
A fresh spiral in the vaccine standoff erupted when European Council President Charles Michel claimed the UK had imposed an "outright ban" on the export of vaccines.
In a weekly briefing note, Michel said:
"Here again, the facts do not lie. The United Kingdom and the United States have imposed an outright ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components produced on their territory”.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab dismissed the statement as "completely false", reported the BBC.