According to Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, the European Union does not want to allow Astrazeneca’s vaccine to be exported until the company has fulfilled its delivery obligations to the EU countries. “We will make sure that everything stays in Europe until the company honors its commitments,” said Breton on Friday in a press conference broadcast on the Internet in Spain. The export control mechanism tightened this week is the instrument for this.
Astrazeneca has pledged 120 million doses of corona vaccine to the EU for the first quarter, Breton said. But the EU only receives 30 million doses. “We are now in discussions with the company to understand what happened,” added the Commissioner.
At the same time, there are strict rules for monitoring what leaves the continent. “We have this instrument, which the President of the Commission (Ursula von der Leyen) presented again yesterday to ensure that we control and have no drains, if I may say so.”
Breton made it clear, however, that there were no problems with other manufacturers. Biontech / Pfizer and Moderna even exceeded their commitments to the EU.
The EU Commission introduced export controls on February 1st and tightened them this week with the aim of ensuring that the EU is supplied fairly by manufacturers. This makes export bans possible. For fear of countermeasures, these should only be imposed in an emergency.
Against the background of the EU’s dispute with Astrazeneca, the discovery of 29 million doses of vaccine in a bottling plant in Italy on Wednesday caused confusion. Astrazeneca on Wednesday rejected media reports that the vaccine it found was to be exported to the UK. 13 million doses are therefore intended for the international Covax vaccination initiative, the remaining 16 million for the EU.
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“We suspected that Astrazeneca had more production capacity in Europe than they had stated,” an EU representative in Brussels told the AFP news agency. EU Industry Commissioner Breton therefore asked the Italian authorities to inspect the plant in Anagni near Rome. He did not provide any information about the destination of the vaccine doses found there.
Factory in Asia not approved for EU production
There was also uncertainty about the origin of the vaccine bottled in Italy. “We now have to check whether the active substance in these vaccines was manufactured in the EU in facilities approved by the EMA,” said the EU representative. Astrazenca later stated that at least the vaccine for the 13 million Covax doses was not produced in the EU.
Astrazeneca also produces in factories in Asia that have not yet been approved for EU production. In the dispute over the delivery delays, one of the company’s production facilities in Leiden, the Netherlands, recently came into focus. So far, production for the EU has not been allowed there because a corresponding permit has not yet been applied for.
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The EU has been arguing with Astrazeneca for months because the company has so far been delivering significantly less corona vaccine than agreed to the EU countries. The Commission therefore significantly expanded the options for export bans on Wednesday. Brussels accuses Astrazeneca of preferring other countries and especially Great Britain at the expense of the EU.
Commission vice Valdis Dombrovskis again highlighted Astrazeneca’s failures on Wednesday. Initially, the company had promised 120 million cans in the first quarter of 2021. “Now they promise to deliver 30 million cans, but they’re not even close to that number as of today.” According to EU data, the company has so far delivered 19 million cans. (Reuters/AFP)