EU amends COVID-19 vaccine export rules: ‘This will ensure that the EU is able to vaccinate 70% of adults by the end of summer’

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/peterschreiber.media
© GettyImages/peterschreiber.media

Related tags: exports, Vaccine

The EU Commission has adapted its export authorization mechanism for COVID-19 vaccines, shoring up its ability to prevent shipments going to countries with advanced immunization rates and good access to vaccines.

It said that export licenses for COVID-19 shots will be given on ‘reciprocity’ and ‘proportionality’ grounds.

The move “will ensure that the EU is able to vaccinate 70% of adults by the end of summer” ​said the EU executive.

The regulation is consistent with the EU's international commitment under the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the G20, it added.

In reviewing applications for COVID-19 vaccine exports from companies with which the EU has contractual deals, EU member states and the Commission now must consider:

  • Reciprocity – does the destination country restrict its own exports of vaccines or their raw materials, either by law or other means? and
  • Proportionality – are the conditions prevailing in the destination country better or worse than the EU's, in particular its epidemiological situation, its vaccination rate, and its access to vaccines.

Row over contractual obligations 

EU trade chief, Valdis Dombrovskis, told a news conference the refining of the rules of the export authorization mechanism, which was recently extended until the end of June from the original March 31 deadline, was not targeting any specific country.

The amendment comes, however, as mainstream media reports say the EU is set to block exports of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines to the UK. 

Senior EU officials told Bloomberg news agency that any requests for doses produced in Europe would be reviewed "very severely"​ until the Anglo-Swedish pharma company fulfilled its contract with the bloc. Any vaccines and ingredients produced in European factories “will for now be reserved for local deliveries,”​ the sources added.

Reuters reported the vaccine row is focused on a facility in the Netherlands; the factory was referenced in the AstraZeneca contracts signed with both the UK and the EU.

'Balanced approach' to date on vaccine export requests 

In his press briefing today, Dombrovskis said the export mechanism has introduced much-needed transparency in relation to vaccine deliveries in the EU, and that it has been used in a “balanced way”.

“We have authorized exports on the basis that they did not threaten the commitments undertaken by pharmaceutical companies under their advance purchase agreements. Of 381 requests, 380 have been approved.

“Only one request for export authorization was not granted since it would have compromised the commitments of AstraZeneca. I remind you that AstraZeneca has only delivered a small portion of its agreed contractual commitments.”

Europe has taken every step to act fairly and responsibly, mindful of its global leadership role, since the start of the pandemic, stressed the trade commissioner.

“The EU remains the biggest global exporter of vaccines. We are the largest contributor to low-and middle- income countries in the so-called COVAX facility. You only have to look at the figures: 43 million vaccines to 33 countries since the end of January. And that only covers the countries which are subject to export authorization systems. There are many more vaccines going to other countries. No one else has done as much.”

But he said that continuing shortfalls in COVID-19 vaccine production has resulted in unfair distribution across different contracting countries. “The EU is the only OECD producer that continues to export vaccines to countries that have production capacities of their own. But when these countries do not export to the EU, there is no reciprocity.”​ 

Related topics: Markets & Regulations, COVID-19

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