The European Union (EU) moved Wednesday toward imposing stricter export controls for coronavirus vaccines, seeking to make sure there are more Covid-19 shots to boost the bloc’s flagging vaccine campaign as new infections surge.
The EU’s executive body said on the eve of a summit of the EU’s 27 leaders that it has a plan to guarantee that more vaccines produced in the bloc are available for its own citizens even if it comes at the cost of helping nations outside the bloc.
The EU move is expected to be a blow to Britain, whose speedy vaccination rollout has been eyed with envy by many EU nations, especially since it came as the U.K. formally completed its Brexit divorce from the bloc. The latest figures show that 45 percent of British adults have had at least one vaccine shot, compared to less than 14 percent for the bloc.
The EU Commission said it would proceed on a case-by-case basis but attention centered on the U.K. and the Anglo-Swedish company AstraZeneca, which has two vaccine factories in EU territory.
“I mention specifically the U.K.,” said EU Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis. Since the end of January, “some 10 million doses have been exported from the EU to the U.K. and zero doses have been exported from U.K. to the EU.”
“So it’s clear that we also need to look at those aspects of reciprocity and proportionality,” he said.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU has approved the export of 41 million vaccine doses to 33 countries in the last six weeks and believes that it stands at the forefront of international vaccine-sharing efforts.
Under a less stringent export control system in force so far, only one vaccine shipment in 381 has been barred. That was supposed to be sent to Australia, which has a very limited coronavirus outbreak compared to the third surge of infections that many EU nations are now facing. World Health Organization officials say new infections are rising across Europe after previously declining for six weeks.