COVID: EU leaders agree to up vaccine production in bloc

Friday, 26 Mar, 2021

The discussion was prompted by how slowly the immunisation programme in the bloc was progressing, because of delays in production and shipments of the vaccine developed by British-Swedish company AstraZeneca, which has production sites in Britain and the EU.

After AstraZeneca announced the drastic supply cut, the European Union put in place an export control system that requires pharma manufacturers to take permission from the bloc before exporting, and gives Brussels powers to block shipments if the companies are deemed to have broken contractual obligations. "We didn't shoot for the stars", he told the Greek television channel ERT before the summit.

The statistics were intended in part as a defense against criticism of the EU's vaccine rollout, but also as pushback against the United Kingdom. In his defence he said that France and other member states didn't see that Covid-19 vacines would be developed within a year.

Some leaders stressed that an embargo should be a last resort if negotiations for a better way of sharing vaccine production come up short, but von der Leyen adopted an uncompromising tone. You can give that to the Americans. Both sides want to fix transatlantic ties that frayed under former president Donald Trump.

Separately, a group of research papers released at a Brookings Institution conference this week has found the United States squandered both money and lives in its coronavirus pandemic response, and could have avoided almost 400,000 deaths with a more effective health strategy as well as trimmed federal spending by hundreds of billions of dollars while still supporting those who needed it.

On Saturday, the EU Commission went as far as to ask Italy to inspect AstraZeneca vaccine batches at the Anagni plant near Rome; which were consequently carried out by Italian police and found to be destined for Belgium.

AstraZeneca can not export any more COVID-19 vaccines from Europe until it makes good on its contracts with the European Union, von der Leyen said after a meeting of the leaders of the 27-nation bloc.

"As President Biden has said, the United States will work closely with our allies and our European Union partners across the continent to address our shared challenges and to meet our shared goal of a Europe whole, free and in peace", Blinken said.

Afterwards, vaccine supplier AstraZeneca was warned it must deliver the number of doses contracted to the European Union before it can export doses out of the bloc, according to The Irish Times.

The Netherlands and Belgium, centres of European Union vaccine production, are skittish at talk of an embargo, fearful that disruption to global supply chains could hurt other firms' production.

It appeared to be a cooling of tensions after Ms von der Leyen warned on Wednesday that the commission said it would tighten the EU's vaccine export rules, prompting fears it could bar supplies being sent to the UK.

A group of six smaller states led by Austria demanded more doses after they missed an earlier opportunity to secure a bigger share of costlier vaccines by betting on the cheaper - but unreliably supplied - AstraZeneca one.

Relations between Paris and Ankara are particularly strained. French President Emmanuel Macron made it clear he was fully behind it.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden took part in the virtual summit at the invitation of the EU. "Efforts to this end must be further intensified", the leaders said.