Struggling EU urges US to agree to export of Covid vaccines

Patrick Sawer
·3-min read
Visitors wait in line at the Brussels Expo Covid-19 Vaccination Center in Brussels, Belgium, on Friday, March 5, 2021. - Olivier Matthys/ Bloomberg
Visitors wait in line at the Brussels Expo Covid-19 Vaccination Center in Brussels, Belgium, on Friday, March 5, 2021. - Olivier Matthys/ Bloomberg

The EU is to appeal to the US to allow the export of millions of doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine to Europe to make up for its shortfall of supplies, it has emerged.

In a bid to boost its stuttering inoculation drive the European Commission plans to raise the matter in transatlantic discussions designed to boost collaboration in the fight against Covid-19.

The EU will also ask Washington to ensure the free flow of shipments of vital ingredients needed for its own production of the vaccine.

It comes after Italy blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca jabs to Australia, leading to further fears of vaccine hoarding as the EU tries to catch up with both the UK and the USA’s vaccine roll out.

The European Commission said in a statement: “We trust that we can work together with the US to ensure that vaccines produced or bottled in the US for the fulfilment of vaccine producers’ contractual obligations with the EU will be fully honoured.”

The European bid to obtain supplies of the AstraZeneca jab produced in the US comes as the company struggles to meet its delivery targets for the EU following production problems.

AstraZeneca has also said it intends to source half of its planned supply to the EU from elsewhere in the world, but it declined to comment on the EU effort to access its US production.

The EU’s attempt to source more supplies follows months of problems with its vaccine roll out, which at one stage saw the jab restricted to under-65s by several European countries such as Germany, which reversed the policy this month.

President Joe Biden and Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, discussed increasing cooperation in the face of the pandemic on Friday.

After the two leaders’ call the commission said that the two had a “strong interest” in working together to improve supply chains across the globe.

Thierry Breton, EU internal market commissioner, has now been tasked to work with Jeffrey Zients, US co-ordinator of the Covid-19 response, on vaccine supply chain issues.

A worker checks in a visitor ahead of administering a vaccine at the Brussels Expo Covid-19 Vaccination Center in Brussels, Belgium, on Friday, March 5, 2021. - Olivier Matthys/Bloomberg
A worker checks in a visitor ahead of administering a vaccine at the Brussels Expo Covid-19 Vaccination Center in Brussels, Belgium, on Friday, March 5, 2021. - Olivier Matthys/Bloomberg

EU officials are understood to be more hopeful that the effort will be smoothed by the more co-operative transatlantic relationship established since President Biden took office.

AstraZeneca says that it remains on track to hit its target to deliver 40m doses to the EU by the end of the first quarter, down from an original plan to ship at least 100m shots by the end of March.

However, it also said it will need to source 90m second-quarter EU doses from outside the bloc, though it has not stated where these would come from.

The White House has said it intends vaccine doses made in the US to be used for its own citizens first.

A White House official told The Financial Times: “The president’s first priority is to make vaccines available for every American. The US and EU have committed to deepening co-operation on pandemic response, including by enhancing public health capabilities and information sharing. We know that in order to beat this pandemic and to turn a corner on economic recovery, we must work with our allies and partners.”

Although Washington does have an order for 300m doses of the AstraZeneca jab it has not yet been authorised by US regulators.

The EU also wants to ensure that US rules do not impede the export to Europe of raw materials needed for vaccine manufacture, such as lipid nanoparticles. These are key to the vaccines made by companies including BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna.

The White House added: “The US and EU are reliant on each other for key components in the manufacturing process, and co-operation will remain critical.”