EU begins to clamp down on vaccine exports as supplies fall short

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Stella Kyriakides

European well being commissioner Stella Kyriakides introduced the brand new export guidelines on 24 January

Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

The European Union has taken a primary step in the direction of clamping down on the export of coronavirus vaccines after pharmaceutical agency AstraZeneca informed the bloc it will ship far fewer doses than anticipated within the subsequent months. The EU hasn’t stopped producers from promoting to exterior nations, together with the UK, however has taken a step in the direction of this by requiring vaccine producers to give discover earlier than exporting.

“In the future, all companies producing vaccines against covid-19 in the EU will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries,” mentioned Stella Kyriakides, the EU commissioner for well being, on 25 January. “Humanitarian deliveries are of course not affected by this. The European Union will take any action required to protect its citizens and rights.”

Even earlier than it was clear whether or not any vaccine would work, many international locations signed offers with vaccine makers to present set numbers of doses by sure dates. As a part of these, international locations paid in advance for the preparation of manufacturing services.

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AstraZeneca was meant to ship 80 million doses of its vaccine to the EU by the tip of March. The EU hasn’t but permitted the AstraZeneca vaccine, however is anticipated to accomplish that quickly.

Last week, AstraZeneca informed the EU that it will solely have the opportunity to ship 31 million doses. According to Reuters, it is because the EU doses are being made at a vaccine manufacturing unit in Belgium run by an organization known as Novasep that has confronted manufacturing issues.

“This new schedule is not acceptable,” mentioned Kyriakides. She despatched AstraZeneca a letter in response, asking questions such as what number of doses have been made the place and to whom they’ve seen despatched. “The answers of the company have not been satisfactory so far,” mentioned Kyriakides.

According to Robert Peston, political editor for ITV News, half of the issue is that though AstraZeneca reached preliminary agreements with a number of EU international locations in June, the European Commission then took over the negotiations and didn’t finalise the contract till August. That left little time to type out provide points.

By distinction, the UK finalised its contract with AstraZeneca in May. Peston additionally says all these offers had been on a “best effort” foundation, given the problem of manufacturing such an enormous numbers of doses in report time.

AstraZeneca is charging all international locations the identical worth aside from small changes based mostly on native prices. The firm declined to remark on particular particulars however did affirm that it’s supplying the vaccine on a non-profit foundation. “The vaccine will be supplied at no profit globally for the duration of the pandemic,” a spokesperson for AstraZeneca informed New Scientist.

The EU has additionally ordered 600 million doses of the vaccine created by Pfizer and BioNTech. It obtained fewer deliveries than anticipated within the second half of January due to Pfizer upgrading its manufacturing unit in Puurs, Belgium, however regular provide was due to resume on 25 January, with elevated deliveries from 15 February.

Many much less rich international locations all over the world have but to procure any vaccine. There is a worldwide initiative known as COVAX, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), which is attempting to make sure that poorer international locations get a provide. It has raised $6 billion to purchase and distribute vaccines.

“More than 39 million doses of vaccine have now been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries,” mentioned Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, on 18 January. “Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country. Not 25 million, not 25 thousand, just 25.”

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