European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen talks to the media at Berlaymont, the European Commission’s headquarters.
LONDON – The European Union on Friday imposed temporary controls on the export of coronavirus vaccines made inside the block, following a spit with the British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and broader supply problems.
It has recently received two massive blows Pfizer says it would temporarily reduce production while upgrading its production capacity at its Belgian plant. Last week, AstraZeneca also said it would deliver far fewer doses to the EU in the spring than originally expected, due to production issues at factories in the Netherlands and Belgium.
After pressuring AstraZeneca this week to meet its commitments and then urging the company to move vaccines manufactured in the UK to the block, the EU confirmed on Friday that it is conducting temporary inspections.
“Protecting the health of our citizens remains our top priority, and we must put in place the necessary measures to ensure that we achieve this,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Friday.
“This transparency and authorization mechanism is temporary and we will, of course, continue to keep our commitments to low- and middle-income countries.”
The inspections are expected to last until the end of March.
“This time-limited and targeted system only covers the Covid-19 vaccines agreed through advanced purchase agreements with the EU,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, EU Executive Vice President and Commissioner for Trade.
“This mechanism contains a wide range of exemptions to fully meet our commitments on humanitarian aid and to protect vaccine deliveries to our neighborhood and to countries in need covered by COVAX plant. ”
The European Union has been under pressure for what critics describe as a slow expansion of Covid vaccines. The European Commission, the institution leading the procurement agreements, has been blamed for not securing enough vaccines, and the region’s medical authority has been criticized for taking too long to approve vaccinations that have been given the green light elsewhere.
On Friday, the European Medicines Agency approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use in the EU, about a month after it first received the green light in the UK, which recently left the block.
In connection with CNBC on Friday, the Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin denied that this spit between Brussels and a British pharmaceutical company had turned into another “Brexit battle”.
“Overall, I believe that the European Commission has acted well and effectively in relation to vaccine procurement,” he said. “There is a lot of tension out there … a lot of pressure on the mandate from the Member States, from the Prime Ministers. Why? Because populations are under pressure, people are under pressure.”
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