Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said AstraZeneca subcontractor Halix, in the Netherlands, has stopped sending doses of the Oxford jab to the UK since the bloc decided to implement export controls.
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While speaking in The Hague, Mr Breton said, “Everything has stayed in the EU,” stating that the vaccine producers must first deliver what was promised to EU member states, while adding he was impressed with the yield from the Dutch producer, which can produce 5 to 6 million doses a month, with a significant part of the number going for the EU.
The EU, in January, had to introduce export controls on vaccine exports after it accused AstraZeneca of reducing supplies made for member states. Since then, the jab producers have had to put official requests to member states before accepting orders from any non-EU country.
The regulation caused Italy to block the exportation of 250,000 AstraZeneca vaccines to Australia. The bloc’s export authorisation scheme for vaccines is meant to expire at the end of March but the European Commission is working on extending it until June.
Concerns are that extending the control could reignite tensions with countries that rely solely on shots made in the European Union.
“The Commission will propose its extension into June. And that was greeted by the member states with approval, not necessarily enthusiasm, but there is a feeling that we still need that mechanism,” a senior EU diplomat said.
Another EU official said that at a meeting with EU diplomats on Wednesday, many countries endorsed the move to extend the control including Germany and France with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi calling for sanctions on companies that do not respect their contractual obligations with the EU.
Meanwhile, Australian leaders said they were unfazed by Italy’s decision to block the vaccine supplies, but Health Minister Greg Hunt said the country had already received its first shipment of the vaccine, which would be enough until a batch that is being produced locally by CSL Ltd is ready.
“This is one shipment from one country. This shipment was not factored into our distribution plan for the coming weeks,” Mr Hunt said while urging the Commission and the Italian Government to rethink their decision.
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French Health Minister Olivier Veran, on Friday, said France could also block the exportation of COVID-19 vaccines to non-EU countries, just like Italy. When BFM TV asked if France could follow Italy’s move on this, Mr Veran replied: “We could”.