European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has threatened to block AstraZeneca vaccine exports to Britain until the Swedish-British firm “catches up” on its pledged deliveries across the English Channel.
Von der Leyen told a news conference that AstraZeneca “has to honour the contract it has with the European member states, before it can engage again in exporting vaccines”.
She noted she had not seen evidence of British-made jabs having left the country for the EU, whereas the European-made doses have been travelling to the UK. The EU is the world’s biggest vaccine exporter in the world, having shipped about 77 million doses abroad since early December, Von der Leyen asserted.
Addressing the vaccination drive , she said the EU could have been “much faster” had all pharmaceutical partners honoured their contracts. “AstraZenaca has committed to a lower number of doses than was contracted,” von der Leyen asserted.
The comments came despite a purported effort to relieve tensions on Wednesday night, when the EU, which has been in fierce debate of late about the distribution of imported vaccines, inked an agreement with the UK “to create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all our citizens”.
US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which procures jabs from Europe to Britain, warned the bloc that blockage of supplies to the UK – ie, export controls – risked creating, just the opposite, a “lose-lose” situation for all parties.
'End of Naivety'
Meanwhile, Emmanuel Macron looked upon the proposed blockage favourably, saying it would mark “the end of naivety”.
“I support export control mechanisms put in place by the European Commission. I support the fact that we must block all exports as long as some drug companies don't respect their commitments with Europeans,” the French president said after the virtual summit.
He added that the EU, unlike other market players, had exported a big part of its production instead of keeping it for its own needs.
“Europe is not a selfish continent. Because when I read what the press on the other side of the Channel writes, we're being accused of being selfish. Wrong! We let our supply chains untouched,” Macron said, as French authorities came under a barrage of criticism for its until recently lax vaccination campaign.
“But we saw that the United States tend to protect their own vaccine production ... that the United Kingdom did not export many doses. Actually, none. So we put in place an export control mechanism,” Macron added.
Merkel: ‘We Want a Win-Win’ Regarding Britain
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also had her say after the meeting, noting that although the country is set to “respect global supply chains and wants to fight protectionism”, “protecting our people” is no less a priority.
“In relation to Britain, we want a win-win situation, we want to act sensibly politically,” Merkel explained, going on to back the EU’s decision to procure vaccines jointly for the whole of the EU, which is bracing itself for a third wave of coronavirus infection and struggling to mount its vaccination rates.
A draft of the two-day summit conclusions obtained by Reuters has it that leaders are ostensibly set to acknowledge "the importance of ... export authorisations", and reaffirm that vaccine makers must fully respect contractual delivery deadlines.
Late on Wednesday, Boris Johnson warned that businesses could flee the bloc's borders if it slapped “arbitrary” blockades. Health Secretary Health Secretary Matt Hancock pointed out that the UK's contract with AstraZeneca was far better than the EU's, which explains why the country may prioritise some countries over others.
“I believe that free trading nations follow the law of contracts,” he told the Financial Times, adding: “They have a 'best efforts' contract and we have an exclusivity deal.”
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt blasted the proposed export ban as “idiotic” and warned it could cripple the EU's relations with Britain for years.
The Europeans have lately been enraged over UK-based pharma giant AstraZeneca failing to meet its vaccine delivery pledges to them while ensuring more regular and bigger supplies to former EU member Britain.
To date, post-Brexit Britain has managed to administer 46 doses per 100 people of its overall population, which is more than three times the 14 doses per 100 in Germany and 13 per 100 in France.
Although there is still no formal decision from EU bosses yet on whether there will be blockage of UK’s exports, PM Johnson has decisively declined to rule out retaliatory measures, which could potentially see the UK suspend the export of inoculation ingredients for the AstraZeneca plant in the Netherlands. However, he hinted he is not in favour of the move, at least for now.