Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.
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LONDON – Tensions are high between the UK and the European Union as the 27-strong bloc consider restricting Covid-19 vaccine exports across the English Channel.
The European Union is increasingly frustrated with AstraZeneca for failing to meet its delivery targets for the block. The pharmaceutical company cut the number of vaccines it will ship to the EU twice in the first quarter and once in the second quarter. As a result, European officials fear that future problems could undermine their vaccination goals.
AstraZeneca has met its delivery targets for the UK – where the vaccination rate is higher than the EU – even though some of these vaccines come from plants in the European Union. Great Britain ordered the AstraZeneca recordings earlier than the EU.
"The EU must ensure the supply of vaccines to Europeans in accordance with the contractual obligations of companies. We will examine the various tools we have at our disposal for this purpose, including the use of the export authorization system in its current or adapted form." A. The European Commission spokesman told CNBC on Monday.
At the end of January, the EU approved export restrictions for Covid-19 vaccines, but these can only be implemented if a company fails to meet its contractual obligations to the region and the vaccines reach a country that is not considered to be endangered.
We have the option to ban planned exports. That is the message to AstraZeneca.
Ursula von der Leyen
President of the European Commission
This allowed Italy to stop a delivery of AstraZeneca vaccines to Australia a few weeks ago – the only body of European authorities to prevent Covid shots from leaving the region. However, the legislation expires at the end of March.
"There is an ongoing reflection process in the EU and we will consult the Member States. All options are on the table," the European Commission spokesman added via email. The issue is expected to be discussed by the 27 heads of state on Thursday at a European summit.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, told a group of newspapers over the weekend: "We have the opportunity to ban planned exports. This is the message to AstraZeneca:" You fulfill your contract with Europe before you do the Delivery to other countries will begin & # 39 ;. "
Von der Leyen had already called for stricter export restrictions last week.
"We will think about whether the exports to countries with higher vaccination rates than we are still proportionate," she said on Wednesday.
As of last week, the European Union has been exporting 41 million cans of Covid shots to 33 countries. The greatest recipient was Great Britain.
The UK government, when contacted by CNBC on Monday, did not confirm whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson should speak to European leaders about vaccine exports. A prime minister's spokesman said later Monday that the UK government believes in the importance of countries not imposing export restrictions on vaccines and that the nations should work together, Reuters reported.
However, UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News on Sunday that blocking vaccines was "counterproductive" and hurt the EU's reputation.
Pfizer, whose vaccine has been the most widely used in the EU to date, reportedly said the region shouldn't block export of Covid shots as the company needs raw materials from the UK. By imposing restrictions on the vaccines, the UK could retaliate by preventing ingredients from traveling to EU plants.
A Pfizer spokesman told CNBC on Monday that its position was in line with the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, which said in January that export bans "risk retaliation given the global nature of vaccine supply lines".
The UK intends to complete vaccination of its adult population with the first dose of Covid vaccinations by July.
Despite a "difficult" start to the rollout in the European Union, as described by von der Leyen last week, the bloc also intends to achieve herd immunity by mid-July.
"Until July 14th we have the possibility to achieve immunity," Thierry Breton, EU internal commissioner, told the French TV channel TF1 on Sunday.
The EU's target will depend on the fulfillment of supply contracts by four pharmaceutical companies and the ability of member states to vaccinate their populations.