Europe, with millions of doses unused, is divided on export ban
European Union governments are divided over a controversial proposal to withhold vaccine exports to the UK, 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.
EU ambassadors on Wednesday discussed a new proposal by the European Commission that would restrict exports of vaccines to countries -- the UK in particular -- that don’t reciprocate or that already have high vaccination rates, according to a diplomatic note seen by Bloomberg. The UK 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.
“What is obvious is that all of the vaccines which are currently being deployed require a second dose and therefore it is 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,” European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said at the briefing on Thursday. “This is what makes comparisons in terms of vaccination rates difficult.”
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 drugs regulator will make a decision on the safety of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine. Some of the EU’s largest countries suspended use of the shot due to concern about blood clotting.
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 UK, according to Bloomberg’s Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker. The US has given 34.
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.
The new vaccination numbers underscore the disparate rates of inoculations across the EU. Malta has administered 24 doses per 100 people, according to the document. Bulgaria, Croatia and Latvia have all given fewer than 10.