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AstraZeneca delivery: first vaccine export from the EU stopped

Status: 05.03.2021 5:41 a.m.

The manufacturer AstraZeneca wanted to export a quarter of a million vaccine doses from the EU to Australia. But nothing comes of it: Italy has banned the export because the company does not adhere to supply agreements with the EU.

For the first time, the export of corona vaccines from the European Union to a third country has been stopped. Italy prevented the delivery of 250,000 doses of vaccine from the British-Swedish manufacturer AstraZeneca to Australia, as the Foreign Ministry announced in Rome. The cans come from a factory in Italy operated by AstraZeneca. The EU agreed to the order from Rome.

The basis is an export control system introduced at the end of January. According to this, pharmaceutical companies that have delivery obligations for the EU must apply for export permits for vaccines produced in the EU. If manufacturers unlawfully disadvantage the EU in terms of delivery quantities, permits can be refused. AstraZeneca had drastically reduced the contractually agreed delivery volume to the EU in the first quarter and thus caused great resentment.

EU states are responsible for permits

Exports to a number of partner countries and developing countries are excluded from the system. The partner countries include Switzerland, Israel and Ukraine. The EU member state in which the vaccines intended for export were produced is responsible for the export permits. The EU states obtain the opinion of the EU Commission before making any decisions.

In the present case, Rome and Brussels seem to have agreed. A number of other export applications from other companies had previously been approved, most of them from BioNTech and Pfizer, which supply many countries from Europe.

Australia has said it has asked the European Commission for help in the dispute over the delivery. “Australia raised the issue with the European Commission through a number of channels and we asked them to review this decision,” said Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt.

AstraZeneca does not abide by agreements

Unlike BioNTech / Pfizer and Moderna, AstraZeneca has not yet supplied the EU with the contractually promised quantities of vaccines. The company reduced the quantity for the first quarter from 80 million to 40 million cans. It was suspected that vaccines produced in the EU were brought to third countries. That was the reason for the introduction of the export mechanism.

Export restrictions are politically sensitive for the EU. Because it is desirable that the pharmaceutical companies produce in Europe and set up new locations here. It is also recognized that the corporations have delivery obligations to other countries. The EU Commission therefore emphasizes the line that exports cannot be stopped as long as contracts with the EU are complied with. It is even the case that a lot of the vaccine from the EU reaches third countries, while nothing or almost nothing is exported from the USA and Great Britain.

Demand for cooperation instead of confrontation

The Social Democrats in the European Parliament criticized the export ban imposed by Italy. The move was “extremely short-sighted”, declared the chairman of the trade committee in the EU parliament, Bernd Lange (SPD), and the health policy spokesman for the European SPD, Tiemo Wölken. The decision opens “Pandora’s box and could lead to a global battle for vaccines.” In the pandemic, however, “cooperation instead of confrontation” is needed.

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