Covid: EU threatens to halt vaccine exports to UK and other countries with high vaccination rates

  • Video report by ITV News Europe Editor James Mates

The European Union has threatened to halt exports of Covid-19 vaccines to the UK.

In what appeared to be a veiled threat to the UK, following an ongoing row about the supply of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels the EU was seeking to block exports of coronavirus vaccines to countries with higher vaccination rates.

“We are exporting a lot to countries that are themselves producing vaccines and we think this is an invitation to be open, so that we also see exports from those countries coming back to the European Union," Ms von der Leyen said. “The second point that is of importance to us: we will reflect on whether exports to countries who have higher vaccination rates than us are still proportionate.”

  • How likely is it that the EU will follow through with its threat? ITV News Europe Editor James Mates answers the question live in Paris

Ms von der Leyen, who has been under fire over the pace of the EU’s vaccination programme, said: “We want reliable deliveries of vaccines, we want increase in the contracts, we want to see reciprocity and proportionality in exports and we are ready to use whatever tool we need to deliver on that.“This is about making sure that Europe gets its fair share.”

In response, Downing Street urged the EU to “stand by its commitment” not to restrict exports of vaccines.The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I would point you back to the conversation the Prime Minister had with Ursula von der Leyen earlier this year.

“She confirmed then that the focus of their mechanism was on transparency and not intended to restrict exports by companies where they are fulfilling their contractual responsibilities.“It remains the case we would expect the EU to continue to stand by its commitment.”

Ms von der Leyen once again criticised AstraZeneca for falling short of fulfilling its contract to the bloc despite several major EU countries disposing of their supplies of the jab as they halt their rollouts amid reports - as yet unproven - of blood clots.

She accused the embattled pharmaceutical company of delaying Europe’s coronavirus vaccination campaign which has seen less than 5% of the population vaccinated.

“AstraZeneca has unfortunately under-produced and under-delivered, and this painfully, of course, reduced the speed of the vaccination campaign,” she told reporters.

A vial of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine Credit: Yui Mok/PA

Ms von der Leyen said the company originally pledged to deliver 90 million doses of its shot in the first three months of 2021, but later said it could only provide 40 million, then more recently only 30 million.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab disputed Ms von der Leyen's assertions and said he was "surprised" the subject was being discussed..

"I think it takes some explaining, because the world's watching. We've, all of us, including with our European friends, been saying throughout the pandemic, that you'd be wrong to curtail or interfere with lawfully-contracted supply," Mr Raab said.

"We all said it last year on PPE. We've been saying it this year, on vaccines and other things.

"And it also cuts across the direct assurances that we had from the commission and indeed, which I followed up on this week and over the last few days, with Vice President Borrell and vice president president Dombrovskis, and we were reliably informed that they weren't aware of any plans to restrict lawfully contracted supply to the UK.

"We, like our European friends are keeping supply chains open, keeping trade and vital supplies of medical equipment and vaccines is critically important. We all been arguing for this. And we expect those assurances and legally contracted supply to be respected."Frankly, I'm surprised we're having this conversation. It is normally what the UK and EU team up with to reject when other countries with less democratic regimes than our own engage in that kind of brinkmanship."

The EU’s drug regulator insisted on Tuesday that there is “no indication” the AstraZeneca vaccine is linked to reports of blood clots, and Ms von der Leyen told reporters: “I trust AstraZeneca, I trust the vaccines.”

Mr Johnson is expected to get his Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine later this week.It was understood that the NHS told the Prime Minister he would receive that specific jab because of the public interest surrounding the vaccine.But it was unclear whether Downing Street had requested Mr Johnson receives the AstraZeneca vaccine.