(Update 1: adds latest info on AstraZeneca stock in Italy)
Brussels, Mar 24 (efe-epa).- The European Union announced Wednesday that it would consider the progress of jab rollouts and the severity of the Covid-19 crisis in recipient countries when assessing Covid-19 vaccine exports from production plants in the bloc.
The additional criteria in the EU’s mechanism to vet Covid-19 vaccine exports to third-party countries come amid an escalating row over a shortfall in deliveries from Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca. Brussels has accused the company of failing to honor advance purchase agreements.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said: “While our Member States are facing the third wave of the pandemic and not every company is delivering on its contract, the EU is the only major OECD producer that continues to export vaccines at large scale to dozens of countries. But open roads should run in both directions.
“This is why the European Commission will introduce the principles of reciprocity and proportionality into the EU’s existing authorisation mechanism.”
Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis told a press conference that the EU continued to export to some countries that had vaccine production capacities of their own “but when these countries do not export to the EU, there is no reciprocity.”
He added that as part of the new criteria, a country would be able to assess whether its Covid-19 situation was worse or its vaccine rollout less advanced than a recipient country. He insisted it did not amount to an “export ban.”
Italian authorities on Wednesday discovered 29 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine at a plant near Rome as part of an EU-ordered stock check, La Stampa newspaper reported.
The local newspaper had initially EU sources as saying the jabs were destined for the UK but Italian government sources, who did not specify the number of jabs, later told the news outlet the stockpile was in fact earmarked for Belgium.
La Stampa said the jabs likely came from AstraZeneca’s Halix plant in the Netherlands, which has yet to attain approval from the European Medicines Agency.
The number of doses cited by the the newspaper would be double that delivered by AstraZeneca to the EU so far this year.
The EU’s new powers on vetting exports could heighten a spat with the UK over access to vaccines.
A number of European countries such as Germany, France and Poland have had to bolster Covid-19 restrictions amid a surge of infections while the UK has witnessed a steady decrease in cases and deaths due to a prolonged lockdown and a rapid vaccine program.
The UK approved the use of AstraZeneca a month before Brussels. EFE