Brussels has moved to tighten rules on exports of coronavirus vaccines outside the EU as the fallout escalates from AstraZeneca’s shock cut to planned deliveries to the bloc over the next weeks.
Stella Kyriakides, EU health commissioner, on Monday proposed forcing companies to give notice beforehand of any plans to send shipments elsewhere in the world, as the bloc scrambles to boost its supplies of jabs.
Officials say the tougher approach is expected to be modelled on a temporary scheme last year that required companies to seek authorisation for exporting Covid-19 personal protective equipment outside the EU.
The commission held inconclusive crisis talks with AstraZeneca on Monday night over the production shortfall, which threatens to leave EU countries further behind the US and UK in Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
“We want clarity on transactions and full transparency concerning the export of vaccines from the EU,” Ms Kyriakides told reporters on Monday. “In the future, all companies producing vaccines against Covid-19 in the EU will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries.”
The proposed stricter regulations on vaccine exports highlight the intensity of the battle for jabs that are still in short supply globally. The EU put the PPE rules in place between March and May last year because of similar fears about product scarcity.
The commission and EU member states have been angered by AstraZeneca’s disclosure on Friday that its first-quarter deliveries could be more than 50 per cent lower than the up-to-100m shots the European bloc had expected, European officials said. The company produces at sites in both the EU and the UK, which is unaffected by the proposed supply cut.
The company has said there is no “scheduled delay” to shipments of its vaccines, but “initial volumes” will be lower than anticipated because of reduced yields at a manufacturing site in the EU supply chain.
But Ms Kyriakides said AstraZeneca’s proposed new supply schedule was “not acceptable” and said the EU wanted to know “exactly which doses have been produced [and] where by AstraZeneca . . . and if, or to whom, they have been delivered”. After the Monday night meeting ended, she expressed “dissatisfaction with the lack of clarity and insufficient explanations” by the company. “EU member states are united: vaccine developers have societal and contractual responsibilities they need to uphold,” she tweeted.
Ursula von der Leyen, commission president, had earlier held talks with Pascal Soriot, the drugmaker’s chief executive, to urge the company to speed up deliveries. She “made it clear” to Mr Soriot that she “expects AstraZeneca to deliver on the contractual arrangements” in the agreement by the EU to buy up to 400m doses, the commission said.
AstraZeneca said it was doing “everything it can” to deliver the doses as soon as possible. “Our CEO Pascal Soriot was pleased to speak with the commission president Ursula von der Leyen earlier today. He stressed the importance of working in partnership and how AstraZeneca is doing everything it can to bring its vaccine to millions of Europeans as soon as possible,” the company said.
The AstraZeneca jab, made in collaboration with Oxford university, was the first vaccine to be pre-ordered by the EU. The 400m doses of the two-shot course would cover almost half the region’s 446m population.
While the UK has given more than 10 doses per 100 residents and the US 6.6 per 100, the EU has yet to reach two doses per 100 residents, according to FT data.