The Associated Press
The European Union on Friday put stricter rules on exports of COVID-19 vaccines that could affect shipments to countries like the UK amid a deepening dispute with drug maker AstraZeneca over supplies of potentially life-saving vaccines.
The governments of Northern Ireland and the UK immediately embarked on the move, saying the bloc had included an emergency clause in its divorce deal with the UK that could allow it to halt vaccine exports to the small area. Goods should flow freely between the EU and Northern Ireland under special agreements for the British region to protect the peace process on the island of Ireland.
Politicians in Northern Ireland condemned the move and the UK government said it was concerned. An EU official who was unable to speak on the file because the information has not yet been released said the scope of the emergency provisions to limit exports is still under discussion.
« The European Union has shown once again that it is ready to use Northern Ireland if it is in their interests, but in the most despicable way – by providing a vaccine designed to save lives, » said Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland’s Prime Minister.
The UK government asked the EU Executive Board for explanations and assurances as to its intentions.
« The UK Government has reiterated the importance of upholding the benefits of the Belfast and Good Friday Accords and the commitments made to the two communities. » it said in a statement.
The 27-nation bloc and AstraZeneca had previously published a heavily revised version of their vaccine deal, which is at the center of a dispute over the delivery schedule.
The contract that the European Commission and the drug manufacturer signed last year allows EU member states to buy 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, with an option for an additional 100 million doses. This is one of several contracts the EU executive has signed with vaccine manufacturers for a total of more than 2 billion shots.
Under a « pre-purchase » deal with businesses, the EU has invested € 2.7 billion ($ 3.8 billion), including € 336 million ($ 408 million), to fund the production of AstraZeneca’s serum in four factories .
The EU battled the Anglo-Swedish drug maker this week after the company announced it would only provide 31 million doses of vaccine in initial shipments, instead of the 80 million it had hoped for. Brussels claimed AstraZeneca would deliver even less, just a quarter of the doses due between January and March – and member countries started to complain.
The European Commission fears that cans destined for Europe may have been diverted from an AstraZeneca plant on the continent to the UK, where two other company locations are located. The EU also wants cans to be made available to European citizens at two locations in the UK.
« The UK has legally binding agreements with vaccine suppliers and it would not expect the EU, as a friend and ally, to do anything to disrupt the performance of those contracts. » UK said.
Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca, told the German newspaper Die Welt this week that the British government helped develop the vaccine developed with Oxford University and signed its contract three months before the EU. Soriot said that under the UK contract, vaccines made at UK sites must go to UK first.
To avoid similar disputes and allay fears that vaccines might be diverted, the Commission took action on Friday to tighten rules on the export of shots made in the 27 EU countries. The Mechanism for Vaccine Export Transparency? will be used until the end of March to control deliveries to non-EU countries and to ensure that every EU-based export company first presents its plans to the national authorities.
The EU insisted that this is not an export ban, although it could block shipments to the UK or other non-EU countries.
Officials said the intent is to make sure member states get the recordings they bought from producers. They said the mechanism would have no impact on humanitarian supplies and supplies to countries covered by the COVAX initiative, which is jointly led by the World Health Organization – to ensure that less affluent parts of the world have equitable access to COVID-19 – Have vaccines.
In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, French President Emmanuel Macron accused AstraZeneca of a lack of transparency and said exports should be controlled as there is questionable behavior and we receive fewer deliveries that do not comply with the contractual obligations agreed. a ????
Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and other WHO officials warned of supply chain disruptions that could permeate the world and potentially disrupt the fight against COVID-19.
The « Extended Sales Agreement » with the EU was signed in August before the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was properly tested. The European Medicines Agency approved the vaccine on Friday, making it the third approved for use by EU countries.
Much of the 41-page document that was released has been blacked out, making it very difficult to determine which page is on the right. Details on the price of the vaccine in particular were edited. The UK is believed to be paying far more for the vaccine than EU countries.
An EU official said 95% of the redacted text was the result of inquiries from AstraZeneca.
For the uninitiated, the contract is not easy to understand. However, it is full of references to a « Best Reasonable Effort ». Given the uncertainty about the development of the vaccine as it was being drafted, this was done in terms of deliveries and quantities.
AstraZeneca could say that only it can decide if it does its best, but the EU argues that this is a legal term and that only a judge can decide whether the company has undertaken a « Best Reasonable Effort ». That is, the truth of the matter could be in the hands of lawyers on both sides.
In addition to the dispute with AstraZeneca, delays or production problems with the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine have led to political turmoil across the EU.
Almost two weeks after France expanded its vaccination campaign to include people over 75, elderly Parisians flock to vaccination centers fearing daily injection rates will soon decline due to a shortage.
In Italy, virus czar Domenico Arcuri has blown the delivery delays that have so far withdrawn 300,000 doses from the country and drastically slowed its campaign to vaccinate older adults.
According to Arcuri, drug maker Moderna, along with Pfizer and AstraZeneca, announced delays. In the week of February 8th, the pharmaceutical company informed the Italian government that the planned deliveries of the Moderna vaccine would be cut by 20%.
« A vaccine is not a soft drink or snack, » Arcuri said. « With all due respect to non-alcoholic drinks and snacks, the vaccine is the only antidote to get out of this (dark) night that has lasted a year. »
Contributing to this report were associate press writers Danica Kirka in London, Nicole Winfield in Rome, Jamey Keaten in Geneva, and Thomas Adamson in Paris.
A Sri Lankan nurse gives one to a soldier in Colombo, Sri Lanka on January 29, 2021 COVID-19 vaccine. (Eranga Jayawardena / AP)
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