Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca must deliver its contracted vaccines to the European Union before it can export doses elsewhere in the world, the European Commission announced after national leaders met to discuss Covid-19 on Thursday.
“Companies have to honour their contract to the European Union before they export to other regions in the world. This is of course the case with AstraZeneca,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told journalists following the online summit.
“I think it is clear for the company that first of all the company has to catch up, has to honour the contract it has with the European member states, before it can engage again in exporting.”
In the meeting, EU leaders expressed support for tightening controls on vaccine exports to allow permits be refused for batches being sent to countries with a higher vaccination rate in their population, or that are not exporting to the EU in turn.
Ahead of the summit, the Irish Government was among several countries expressing reservations about threatening to refuse export permits in case it disrupted global supply chains.
But, speaking afterwards, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said: “In the context of companies that fail to fulfil their contracts with the EU, the leverage has to be there to ensure their contracts are fulfilled, but also that the EU can have certain safety nets in respect of making sure it has sufficient vaccines for its own population.”
US president Joe Biden addressed the EU summit, a rare event that signals a fresh start for the transatlantic relationship after a difficult few years, and vowed to work with Brussels to keep supply chains flowing between the world’s leading producers of vaccines.
Mr Martin said: “The commission and the US are now working together to ease any bottlenecks in respect of production and availability of vaccines.”
The EU and Britain are in talks over how to co-ordinate on vaccines amid fears from London that the new system could curb its supply, just as India is expected to limit exports as well.
New figures showed 77 million vaccines had been exported from the EU, with the lion’s share of 21 million to Britain, while the bloc received 88 million doses for its population of 447 million people.
Meanwhile, Government Ministers have privately expressed concern about a marked increase in case numbers here just as Cabinet prepares to decide on easing restrictions from April 5th.
Some Ministers did not discount the possibility of daily case numbers creeping close to the 1,000 mark.
“It’s going to be rough over the next few days with higher case numbers,” said one, speaking on the basis of anonymity. “It will make the decision about easing restrictions after April 5th more problematic.
“In general, we are are going to have a difficult April all round in terms of numbers, but they will begin to come down very quickly in May once the impact of the vaccine programme kicks in.”
Another said case numbers were rising at the “worst possible time”, adding: “Making decisions against the backdrop of 1,000 cases a day limits the ability to do much.”
However, there is also a view that some easing of restrictions will have to happen regardless. The 5km limit is expected to be lifted and some in Government think travel should then be allowed within county boundaries.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) reported three further deaths and 606 cases. Infection rates in Tullamore, Co Offaly, have surged again with the town remaining the worst location in Ireland for virus spread.