European Union pledges to keep AstraZeneca doses in the bloc for now

Grant Boone
March 27, 2021

Meanwhile, Emmanuel Macron looked upon the proposed blockage favourably, saying it would mark "the end of naivety".

The European Union, EU, says AstraZeneca can not export any more doses of its COVID-19 vaccine from Europe until it makes good on its contracts with the Union.

"The company. has to honour the contract it has with member states", European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday.

"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.

The EU has been unhappy with slow vaccine rollouts in the EU states and the bloc has blamed pharmaceutical companies - primarily AstraZeneca - for not delivering promised doses, but AstraZeneca has said it honoured its contract. "Actually, none. So we put in place an export control mechanism", Macron added. "It's called respecting the contract", he said.

Draghi said he expected at least 4 million more vaccine doses to get to Italy before the end of the month, with production slowly being ramped up in various sites.

London was angered and alarmed by von der Leyen's decision this week to tighten Europe's export control mechanism to give the Commission more leeway to block exports if European Union vaccine supplies are at stake.

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EU leaders have endorsed the European Commission's mechanism to authorise the export of vaccine doses outside Europe before shipment, though remaining cautious on its use, while the bloc promoted its current track record as the world's main vaccine exporter. "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.

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.

AstraZeneca is expected to deliver 30 million doses to the European Union in the first quarter - a pledge already radically reduced from the 120 million doses it was initially contracted to provide. He said that European citizens feel like they are being "deceived" by some drug makers, according to an EU official who relayed the exchange on condition of anonymity.

U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which procures jabs from Europe to Britain, warned the bloc that blockage of supplies to the United Kingdom - ie, export controls - risked creating, just the opposite, a "lose-lose" situation for all parties. Europe has had 88 million doses delivered so far, of which 62 million doses have been administered.

And Johnson is also concerned that a ban that extends beyond UK-based AstraZeneca's disputed supply could also block vaccines produced in Belgium for BioNTech/Pfizer.

So far, though, such powers have only been used to stop one out of 381 shipments from leaving the bloc- a batch of over 250,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine headed to Australia, a country where the coronavirus outbreak is much less severe compared to Europe.

This would imperil Britain's vaccination drive, which has so far proved more successful than that of most European Union member states, hit by a massive shortfall in deliveries and troubled national roll-outs.

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