AstraZeneca must “honour” its Covid-19 vaccine contract with the EU and "catch up" on its promised deliveries to the bloc before exporting doses elsewhere in the world, the European Commission president has warned.
Ursula von der Leyen urged “transparency” from other countries, but did not confirm if the European Union would bring in tougher export restrictions on coronavirus jabs, amid a row over supplies with the British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant.
It appeared to be a cooling of tensions after Ms von der Leyen warned on Wednesday that the commission said it would tighten the EU’s vaccine export rules, prompting fears it could bar supplies being sent to the UK.
ITV News Europe Editor James Mates says the outcome of the meeting appears to be a "calming of the waters" with the EU unlikely to bring in the ban as it would likely escalate into a tit-for-tat resulting in no vaccines being produced
Addressing a Brussels press conference following a meeting of the European Council on Thursday, Ms von der Leyen said she had “no knowledge” of the UK exporting jabs, while 77 million doses had been exported by the EU so far.
Ms von der Leyen told reporters: “Companies have to honour their contract to the European Union before they export to other regions in the world. This is of course the case with AstraZeneca.
“I think it is clear that the company (AstraZeneca) has to catch up and honour the contract it has with the EU member states before it can engage again in exporting vaccines.”
She added: “We have worldwide supply chains that have to be intact and it is of the utmost importance that we get back to an attitude of openness.”
Asked about how many vaccines the UK had exported, Ms von der Leyen told reporters: “I have no knowledge so far of UK exports, perhaps I am mistaken and waiting for their transparency.”
The row over the supply of AstraZeneca jabs began in January after the company said it would not be able to deliver as many jabs in the first quarter of the year as originally promised. It said it would prioritise supply to the UK as the deal with the UK came before the EU one.
Ms von der Leyen first told reporters on March 17 the EU was seeking to block exports of coronavirus vaccines to countries with higher vaccination rates.
She ramped up the rhetoric this weekend, saying the EU has the power to "forbid" exports.
On Wednesday, the European Commission had set out a tougher regime to stem supplies of jabs to nations faring better in the pandemic as the bloc’s states faced a third wave of cases.
Admitting it is a Covid-19 “hotspot”, the European Commission said on Wednesday it may not approve exports to nations with more advanced vaccine rollouts or where there is a better “epidemiological situation”.
The union said 10 million doses have been exported from the bloc to the UK, while none have been imported in the other direction.
However, several hours later, in a joint statement with the UK, the EU vowed “to create a win-win situation and expand vaccines supply for all our citizens”.
Also on Thursday Belgian prime minister Alexander de Croo said that he believed the EU’s dispute with the UK over vaccine supplies “can be resolved”.
He said he had spoken to Boris Johnson at the end of last week and "we think that the discussion we have with the United Kingdom can be resolved based on good agreements.
“But we of course want to make sure that the Commission has the instruments to come to an agreement and to make agreements being respected.”
Across the EU, just over 11% of adults have received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine but in the UK the figure is more than 54%.
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