EU Reveals Huge Vaccine Exports Amid Struggle to Speed Up Shots
(Bloomberg) -- The European Union has exported more Covid vaccines to the rest of the world than it’s administered at home, piling more pressure on governments seeking to justify prolonged lockdowns to their increasingly exasperated voters.
The numbers were revealed to EU leaders as they discussed how to turn around their vaccination campaign and deal with a new flare up in infections. They showed that drugmakers exported 77 million shots produced in the EU since Dec. 1, versus 62 million doses dispensed. Out of those, 21 million were shipped to the U.K., an EU official said.
The previously undisclosed figures were released just as data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control showed that the pace of vaccine deliveries and inoculations in the EU has been slowing instead of accelerating over the past week. The bloc already lags behind the U.S and the U.K in its inoculation rollout, and governments across the continent have announced extensions or tightening of lockdowns as the health crisis worsens again.
While the EU’s export total includes deliveries via the Covax program for poorer countries, it’s a revelation that could fire up voters frustrated at delays in vaccinations, as well as dramatic u-turns by governments scrambling to get control of the situation.
In Germany, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat-led bloc has slumped in polls ahead of national election in September. France holds presidential elections seven months later.
The underwhelming rollout has also steered tensions among leaders, who spent much of Thursday’s call arguing over how to redistribute a batch of Pfizer Inc. shots that was delivered earlier than originally scheduled. A group of countries led by Austria that had opted out some Pfizer purchases and based their strategy on Astra’s vaccines are now demanding a bigger chunk from the accelerated batch to make up for the shortfall.
Adding to the stream of bad news, the latest data available show that AstraZeneca Plc may fail to deliver 30 million doses to the bloc this quarter. It had only managed 18 million as of Wednesday, with just a week to go before the end of the month. The drugmaker had originally promised 100 million vaccines this quarter, before production issues forced it to cut that.
The EU is counting on a big pickup in vaccine deliveries in the second quarter to help it push past the recent chaos. In addition to the delays, there was also a temporary suspension of Astra’s vaccine by a number of countries over concerns about side effects, which has undermined public confidence in the shot.
As the EU tries to fix the disaster, it’s also unveiled a controversial plan that would allow it to block vaccine shipments under certain conditions. The commission toughened the mechanism this week, and leaders will discuss how strictly to implement it at their video summit Thursday.
In neighboring Switzerland, President Guy Parmelin said the government is watching the EU’s move with concern.
That plan has already put the bloc at loggerheads with the U.K., though both sides have since tried to ease tensions by agreeing to work together on vaccine supply. They are currently in negotiations over the sharing of output from an Astra plant in the Netherlands due to come on stream shortly.
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