EU, With Millions of Doses Unused, Is Divided on Export Ban
(Bloomberg) -- European Union governments are divided over a controversial proposal to withhold vaccine exports to the U.K., even as the bloc sits on about 20 million unused doses.
Around 70 million shots have been delivered to countries in the EU, with 50 million of those already administered, according to an EU document seen by Bloomberg. About 15 million of the used shots were second doses.
The new figures were shared with EU ambassadors on Wednesday, when they discussed a new proposal by the European Commission that would restrict exports of vaccines to countries -- the U.K. in particular -- that don’t reciprocate or that already have high vaccination rates, according to a diplomatic note seen by Bloomberg. The U.K. is the largest recipient of doses made in the EU, receiving 10 million of the 42 million exported shots.
“All options are on the table -- we are in the crisis of the century,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday. “We have to make sure that Europeans are vaccinated as soon as possible.”
EU members, including Italy and France, said they were open to exploring the vaccine export ban while others, such as Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands, urged caution and warned about the possible negative impact on European companies, according to the note.
Any decision on the issue would ultimately be for EU leaders, who are set to meet next week.
The discussion comes ahead of an announcement from the European Medicines Agency on Thursday, when the drug regulator will make a decision on the safety of AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 vaccine. Some of the EU’s largest countries suspended use of the shot due to concern about blood clotting.
Massimo Scaccabarozzi, president of Italy’s pharmaceutical lobby Farmindustria, said in a Bloomberg interview that he expects the EMA to conclude that the Astra vaccine is safe and that the review process overall is functioning well.
“What drug agencies in the EU and Italy have said so far shows they have studied the issue,” said Scaccabarozzi, who is also head of Janssen Italy, the pharmaceutical division of Johnson & Johnson, “and tells us that the system is working.”
The EU is struggling to overcome a slow start to its inoculation campaign and has committed to immunizing 70% of adults by the end of September. The bloc has administered 12 doses per 100 people, less than a third of the U.K., according to Bloomberg’s Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker. The U.S. has given 34.
Commission spokesman Eric Mamer told reporters on Thursday that it’s difficult to compare vaccination rates since the shots deployed in the EU so far require second doses. “It’s only natural that you would have a stock of vaccines which are in reserve in order to provide people with the second injection that they require.”
A shortage in deliveries from AstraZeneca is due to low yields from factories in the Netherlands and Belgium and the company is trying to tap into its international supply chain, including from India, to make up for that, according to the note. Astra is now expected to deliver 30 million shots to the EU in the first quarter, less than half what it initially committed.
The Astra vaccine is one of four approved in the EU. The bloc expects 360 million deliveries from all providers in the second quarter, almost four times as many as this quarter.
According to the latest figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the EU and the European Economic Area are conducting about 1.3 million vaccinations a day compared to 2.5 million a day in the U.S., where the population is about 70% as large.
EU governments also remained deeply divided on the issue of vaccine distribution and whether a corrective mechanism should be introduced to adjust how doses are allocated.
The debate came after a group of EU nations including Austria, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic asked for the bloc’s leaders to discuss what they say is an unfair distribution system. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said last week that some countries get more than others and that there’s an opaque “bazaar” for doses.
“I’m very optimistic that we will be successful and create a correction mechanism to make sure that there is a just system, as was intended initially,” Kurz told ORF public broadcaster on Wednesday.
Germany and other countries have pushed back against the idea of adjusting the system, and one EU diplomat familiar with the discussion said any effort to institute corrective measures doesn’t stand a chance.
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