In the escalating conflict between the EU, pharma giants and countries unwilling to export coronavirus vaccines, European Commission President von der Leyen this week upped the ante, threatening an export ban of EU-made vaccines unless European countries begin “getting their fair share”.
The Commission President’s comments, made as she announced plans for the EU’s upcoming “Digital Green Certificate” to enable travel to restart in the summer, follow those made by European Council President Charles Michel last week and are the latest in the global fight over vaccine exports.
Following on from Mr. Michel’s “setting out of the facts” last week that the EU was the only major vaccine manufacturer that, in contrast to the US and UK, actually still exports, von der Leyen on Thursday threatened to further expand its export transparency mechanism to block any exports to countries that refuse to ship vaccines abroad. While not explicitly named, it was a direct shot against the UK Government which continues to block any UK-made AstraZeneca vaccines from being shipped to the EU due an apparent “Britain First” agreement.
This implied one-way street, despite 10 million doses of vaccines having been exported to the UK over the last 6 weeks, has outraged the Commission, national Governments and EU citizens affected by the vaccine shortage. According to the EU’s export transparency mechanism, in total, some 41 million doses were exported from the EU to 33 countries.
This, von der Leyen told reporters “shows that Europe is trying to make international cooperation work,” but that this is also “why we need to ensure that there is reciprocity and proportionality.” The argument comes as it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Commission and national capitals to explain to their citizens why they are facing delays in receiving the jab while millions of doses are being sent to countries either manufacturing their own vaccines or having far higher vaccination rates than the EU. “We are in the crisis of the century and [if other countries don’t act with reciprocity] I’m not ruling out anything because we have to make sure Europeans are vaccinated as soon as possible,” she added.
Unsurprisingly, President von der Leyen’s comments did not land well in London, where Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab accused the EU of creating a “brinkmanship” usually reserved for conflicts with “other countries with less democratic regimes than our own.”
Speaking at a Downing Street briefing, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, meanwhile, insisted that the UK had signed a contract for delivery of the first 100 million doses of the “UK-funded, UK-delivered” AstraZeneca vaccine and fully expects them to be delivered, adding that “the supply of vaccines from EU production facilities to the UK is indeed fulfilling contractual responsibilities.”