Officials in the European Union (EU) are set to put extra measures in place to control exports of the Pfizer Covid vaccine, after being left frustrated by delivery shortages.
Another vaccine producer, AstraZeneca, infuriated the EU by saying it would only be able to deliver a fraction of the doses it promised for the first quarter of 2021. The company has blamed production issues at European plants.
As a result, a halt on the export of EU-manufactured vaccines is being considered. The trading bloc believes doses of the jab made elsewhere should make up the shortfall in supply.
Fears of disrupting UK supply
Under new proposals from the EU, customs authorities in the bloc will have to notify the European Commission every time vaccine doses are being exported outside its countries.
This adds fresh fears that the UK’s supply of jabs could be disrupted, with the country currently expecting 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which is manufactured in Belgium.
Germany, France, Spain and Portugal have all seen delays in their countries' mass vaccination programmes because of a shortage of doses.
Reports last week indicated that the EU would get 60 per cent fewer doses of the vaccine than promised from January to March 2021.
An EU official said: “There is a possibility in certain circumstances not to allow the export to move forward. We want to ensure we have a say about where these vaccines are ending up.”
The refusal to deliver would only happen in “rare cases”, the official said. For example, if companies were failing to fulfil their contractual commitments to the EU.
The details of the new export crackdown are expected to be published on 29 January, with the measures expected to take effect within days.
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said that the EU’s deal with the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca is “crystal clear” that supplies would come from four factories, including two in the United Kingdom.
Speaking to Deutschlandfunk radio she said: “There are binding orders and the contract is crystal clear.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson commented: “I'm confident of our supplies and we'll keep rolling out vaccines as fast we possibly can.
"I am very pleased at the moment that we have the fastest rollout of vaccines in Europe by some way."