U.K. Offers Help as EU Faces Vaccine Shortage After Astra Fiasco
(Bloomberg) -- Britain signaled it may provide assistance to the European Union as the bloc weighs options to safeguard Covid-19 vaccine supplies amid a severe disruption from AstraZeneca Plc.
The potential U.K. offer comes after the EU failed to convince the drugmaker at a meeting Wednesday to divert doses from Britain to make up for a production glitch in the continent.
“We will want to talk to and with our friends in Europe to see how we can help,” U.K. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said Thursday on ITV. “But the really important thing is to make sure our own vaccination program proceeds precisely as planned,” he added.
The comments came as German Health Minister Jens Spahn issued a dire warning, predicting “at least another 10 tough weeks” of shortages. He called for a meeting of German government officials and drugmaker executives to address the problem.
“Making vaccines is very complex, and there can be a need for building work to increase capacity that leads to delays,” Spahn said on NDR radio. “But then it has to impact everyone in the same way and not just the EU.”
Failure to resolve the issue would mean the EU receives millions less shots than it was expecting in the months ahead. The setback is expected to further slow down an already sluggish vaccination campaign, which has left the bloc lagging behind both the U.S. and the U.K in terms of the share of its population inoculated so far.
In response to the crisis, the European Commission is due to present a proposal on Friday that could complicate exports of vaccines from facilities on the continent by adding bureaucratic layers.
While the EU’s executive arm has said the so-called transparency mechanism won’t amount to an export ban, voices in Germany for additional restrictions are growing louder, including among the Social Democrats, the junior partner in Angela Merkel’s coalition.
“The way it looks now, Chancellor Merkel’s promise to offer a vaccination to all Germans by the end of the summer will be difficult to keep,” Carsten Schneider, a deputy head of the SPD caucus in parliament, said on ZDF television, citing difficulties with the delivery of AstraZeneca jab. “I expect that in such a central issue for Europe but also our country, property rights aren’t put in the center but that everybody gets the vaccine.”
The spat has spilled over into the tense post-Brexit ties between the U.K and the EU, laying bare the risks of a global protectionist push, as nations vie for a slice from the limited supply.
“No, EU can’t have our jabs,” and “Selfish EU,” said the front pages of the Daily Mail and Daily Express newspapers on Thursday. “EU demands British Vaccines” was the main story of the Daily Telegraph.
A regulatory proposal is due Friday by the commission, which has been suggesting that vaccines funded by the bloc were shipped to the U.K. from European plants when the drugmaker’s British supply chain faced disruptions last year. With Astra prioritizing U.K. deliveries, the EU’s executive arm wants to ensure that European taxpayers’ funds aren’t used to grant preferential access to shots elsewhere.
Some EU members have even called for outright restrictions, an idea the commission has so far rejected amid fears that the introduction of protectionist measures could easily escalate into a full-blown trade war. That could disrupt critical supply chains just as humanity races to immunize itself before mutations render the coronavirus less susceptible to vaccines.
The European Commission is weighing two options to introduce a transparency mechanism to the export of vaccines from the EU, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
The first possibility would effectively function as a notification system, with manufacturers having to inform the bloc of their exports. The second is a time-limited targeted authorization system, which would require companies to seek approval for some of their exports.
Neither idea would amount to export restrictions, the person said. The more stringent authorization mechanism, which the person said the bloc is currently leaning toward, would include exemptions, to cover for example humanitarian deliveries. The EU adopted a similar scheme for the export of personal protective equipment last year.
“It’s not about Europe First, but about Europe’s Fair Share,” Spahn said.
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