European leaders have supported tightening the criteria for authorizing exports of EU-made coronavirus vaccines to ensure supplies to citizens within the bloc.
The move follows weeks of bottlenecks and delays, particularly those related to the Anglo-Swedish company AstraZeneca, which has caused frustration across the continent.
Brussels plans to incorporate the principles of “proportionality and reciprocity” into the transparency mechanism introduced at the end of January and to assess export requests from pharmaceutical companies “on a case-by-case basis”.
This means vaccineers like the UK could face a tougher task in obtaining vaccines from EU countries.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said EU leaders considered the Commission’s new export restrictions on vaccines “acceptable” but hoped they would never be applied.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, confirmed on Thursday that the EU has exported 77 million doses of vaccines to 33 countries since December 1, 2020.
As the main donor of COVAX, it has also contributed to exports to low and middle income countries.
She called on the pharmaceutical companies to keep their contracts and to take into account the “openness” of Europe when distributing the COVID-19 vaccine.
She said Europe was at the beginning of a third wave and, although death rates were lower, it underscored the importance of a quick and rapid vaccination program. Von der Leyen said 88 million doses had been shipped to Europe and 62 million doses administered.
“To be very clear, we want to ensure that Europeans get their fair share of vaccines because we have to explain to our citizens that companies that export vaccines around the world are fully complying with their commitments and do not risk security of supply the EU, “she said.
A total of 4.1% of Europeans have now received two doses of the vaccine, she said, saying that if pharmaceutical companies had “kept their contracts we could have been faster”.
Von der Leyen said Europe is well on its way to vaccinating 70% of adults by June 2021.
She spoke with Charles Michel, President of the European Council, at the end of the first day of a two-day summit of European leaders, and practically attended US President Joe Biden.
The heads of state and government also discussed Turkey and talks between Ankara and the EU about a closer relationship with the bloc.