Vaccines: European Union ready to block AstraZeneca exports

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Brussels wants “its fair share of anti-Covid vaccines”: AstraZeneca will not be authorized to export its doses produced in the European Union (EU) until it has caught up with its delivery delays to the Twenty-Seven, a warned the Commission on Thursday after a virtual European summit dominated by vaccine supply problems.

The meeting took place in a tense political context: the third wave of the pandemic led several countries, including France and Germany, to once again tighten the restrictions imposed on the population, and vaccination campaigns are in the pipeline. hardly.

Read also the opinion: Vaccine delivery: the story of funding

An agreement between the EU and London possible from Saturday

Criticized for its strategy and anxious to improve access to precious bottles, Brussels has decided to beef up its game, in particular against the United Kingdom – the first recipient of doses exported by the EU.

The European Commission therefore strengthened its export control mechanism on Wednesday, in order to drastically restrict them to countries which produce them themselves or whose populations are already widely vaccinated.

On the subject: On vaccines, Brussels wants giving, giving

The Swedish-British laboratory AstraZeneca, which delivered to the Twenty-Seven only 30 of the 120 million doses promised in the first quarter, “will first have to catch up” and honor its contract before being able to export outside the continent, has warned Thursday Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European executive.

The tightening of the control mechanism has sparked the ire of the United Kingdom – even though London and Brussels have pledged to find a solution and could reach an agreement as soon as Saturday, believes Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country is home to a factory producing the AstraZeneca vaccine and whose outlets are at the heart of the talks.

Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands concerned

The EU has exported some 21 million doses to the UK since December, according to Commission figures, two-thirds of those administered to the British to date, without the Twenty-Seven receiving any vaccine in return. manufactured in factories across the Channel. Export control, a means of pressure compared to a “gun loaded under the table” by a European source, is supported by several countries including Italy and France.

Read more: Europe facing the specter of a scattered vaccination

It is “the end of naivety”, judged French President Emmanuel Macron in front of the press. “We must block all exports as long as laboratories do not respect their commitments with Europeans.”

Some capitals are much more reserved: “We have complete confidence in the action of the Commission” but it is “desirable that supply chains are not called into question”, in a globalized pharmaceutical sector, declared the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A concern shared by Belgium and the Netherlands, land of many pharmaceutical production sites. “I’m not sure it will help us get more vaccines,” commented Mark Rutte, while acknowledging the usefulness of this tool.

The goal of vaccinating 70% of its adult population by the end of the summer

In total, the EU has exported some 77 million doses to 33 countries since December, not counting contributions to the international Covax initiative in favor of disadvantaged countries. And 88 million doses remained in the EU to supply Member States.

The Twenty-Seven stress that “accelerating the production, delivery and deployment of vaccines remains essential and urgent to overcome the crisis”, and that “efforts must be intensified” in their final declaration of the summit which ended in Thursday night.

The EU has set a target of vaccinating 70% of its adult population by the end of the summer. A goal reaffirmed by Ursula von der Leyen, who expects a clear increase in production and deliveries in the coming weeks.

Another sensitive issue, the distribution of vaccines within the Twenty-Seven: six countries, including Austria, which feel aggrieved, have requested a correction of the distribution system. The EU is ready to seek a solution to help the most troubled countries like Bulgaria, Latvia and Croatia, but this does not concern Austria, which “is not in bad shape at the moment” in his vaccinations, according to Mark Rutte.

A brief participation by Joe Biden

In the evening, US President Joe Biden joined the virtual meeting, shortly after his first White House press conference, in which he announced he was doubling his Covid-19 vaccine target for his 100 first days.

About that: Joe Biden’s promise: by May 1, all Americans will be eligible for the vaccine

“America is back. We are happy that you are back, “said Council President Charles Michel, welcoming the Democratic leader, calling for” a new transatlantic state of mind “.

The last participation of an American president in a meeting of European heads of state and government dates back to 2009, when Barack Obama attended an EU-US summit. “By standing side by side, the EU and the US can show that democracies are best able to protect their citizens, promote dignity and serve prosperity,” Charles Michel tweeted.