European Union moves toward stricter export controls for COVID vaccines

Wednesday, 24 Mar, 2021

With EU leaders announcing fresh lockdowns at home amid soaring death rates and public anger growing over the slow rollout of vaccines, pressure has been growing from some governments - such as Italy - to broaden the export ban.

Sandra Galina, the chief of the European Commission's health division, told legislators on Tuesday that while vaccine producers like Pfizer and Moderna have largely met their commitments "the problem has been AstraZeneca".

"We're still waiting for doses to come from the United Kingdom,", she declared. "Our plan to cautiously reopen society via our roadmap also remains unchanged".

In January, French president Emmanuel Macron expressed doubts about its effectiveness for the over-65s and, earlier this month, concerns over a possible link with a rare form of thrombosis led several European Union and non-EU countries to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

When EU leaders meet later this week to discuss the proposal, they'll say that the "situation remains serious" and that "restrictions, including non-essential travel, must therefore be upheld", according to an EU document seen by Bloomberg.

"We have to put prejudice and urban myths aside and move forward", civil servant Jose Manuel Plaza said from his vehicle after getting the shot at a drive-through vaccination clinic in the southern province of Huelva.

Boris Johnson reportedly credited capitalism and greed for the UK's success in rolling out the vaccine.

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.

The Commission has also started a procedure foreseen under the contract with AstraZeneca that could lead to legal action against the company.

A Commission official confirmed that the European Union was in constant contact with the UK.

The La Stampa website reported that 29 million AstraZeneca doses had been discovered by Italian inspectors being stored at the Catalent plant near Rome under an investigation by the European Commission.

Representatives for Astra, Catalent, the Commission and the Italian government didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

"It's not specific to a company and it's not specific to a country", said one official.

A further 16 million jabs were also awaiting quality controls in order to be sent to Europe, the company said in a statement, without giving further details.

A spokesman for the firm said: "It is incorrect to describe this as a stockpile".

"In particular, vaccine doses must wait for quality control clearance after the filling of vials is completed".