EU leaders to consider vaccine export bans as rollout anger grows, confirms McGuinness

Commissioner understands that AstraZeneca is sending Covid jabs to UK but not EU

EU financial services commissioner Maireád McGuinness has said EU leaders will consider on Thursday whether to impose export bans on coronavirus vaccines to countries outside the bloc. Video: BBC/ The Andrew Marr Show

 

EU financial services commissioner Maireád McGuinness has said EU leaders will consider on Thursday whether to impose export bans on coronavirus vaccines to countries outside the bloc as she warned there was huge concern over a recent surge in Covid-19 cases.

“European citizens are growing angry and upset at the fact that the vaccine rollout has not happened as rapidly as we had anticipated,” she told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show.

“Both the EU and the UK have contracts with AstraZeneca and my understanding is the company is supplying the UK but not the European Union.

“We are supplying the UK with other vaccines, so I think this is just about openness and transparency.”

Ms McGuinness also warned that, despite the start of vaccination programmes around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic looks set to last well past this year.

Her comments come after European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen warned that AstraZeneca could face export bans to countries outside the EU if the company does not speed up the contracted delivery of vaccines to the bloc.

With the slow pace of the vaccine rollout in many European countries becoming politically fraught, in the context of swifter vaccination progress in the UK and US, Ms McGuinness defended the response by the commission to the pandemic.

Vaccine nationalism

Ms McGuinness said the EU had been accused of “vaccine nationalism” but said its approach was internationalist, and cited EU exports of vaccines to 31 countries, including the UK.

“Frankly none of us have had a great Covid. I think all of us should put our hands up and say we were not prepared for this global pandemic, we did not do our best at the beginning but we are doing our best now to protect our citizens. That is exactly where Europe is focused on.”

She said the focus now should be on preparing for the “what ifs”, such as another possible variant of the disease, while also ramping up vaccine production globally, as the world was going to have to live with Covid, and possible new variants of it, for far longer than this year.

“All the things we took for granted like a meal out, summer holidays, seeing family, have been destroyed because of an invisible virus. And we were not ready for it globally, not just in Europe.”

She said countries have learned a hard lesson. “We need to invest in public health, pharmaceutical supply chains.”

In response to the threat of a possible export ban, Britain’s defence secretary Ben Wallace on Sunday warned that any attempt to block coronavirus vaccine exports to the UK would be “counterproductive”.

“The grown-up thing would be for the European Commission and some of the European leaders to not indulge in rhetoric but to recognise the obligations that we all have,” he told The Andrew Marr Show.

“We will all hold each other to our contracts. Making a vaccine is like baking a cake. We all have different ingredients and the European Commission will know that.”

‘Ban planned exports’

On Saturday Ms von der Leyen said: “We have the possibility to ban planned exports. That’s the message to AstraZeneca: you fulfil your contract with Europe first, before you start delivering to other countries.”

Ms von der Leyen said the contract between the EU and AstraZeneca clearly stipulates how many vaccines the EU is set to receive from AstraZeneca’s factories inside the EU and in the UK.

Ms von der Leyen said that, despite this, “we didn’t get anything from the British, while we are delivering vaccines to them”. She said the commission had sent a “formal reminder” to AstraZeneca on this issue.

“I can’t explain to European citizens why we are exporting millions of vaccine doses to countries that are producing vaccines themselves and aren’t sending us anything back,” she said.

Ms von der Leyen’s warning came as the EU struggles to accelerate its Covid-19 vaccination rollout at a time when many member states are facing a third coronavirus wave, causing some countries to introduce new restrictions.

Since February 1st, 41 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been sent from the EU to 33 countries, the largest chunk of which was sent to the UK, while some were sent to the US, which has an export ban on Covid vaccines.

The US export ban is raising concerns about the EU’s access to the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is due for delivery from April.

AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine is one of three currently approved for use in the EU.

However, its usage has been overshadowed by several problems, including recurring delivery problems and a temporary ban on its use for several days in many EU countries earlier this week, after reports of blood clots in some recipients of the vaccine.

Most of the countries in the EU who had suspended its use, including the Republic, resumed giving AstraZeneca vaccines on Friday.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to store than the other two approved vaccines, is seen as critical to ending the pandemic.

Under the latest delivery figures, AstraZeneca is expected to deliver 30 million doses to the EU by the end of March, compared with the 90 million initially expected. Seventy million doses are now expected to be delivered between April and June, instead of the 180 million doses which were originally planned.

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