‘Everything has stayed in EU!’ Brussels gloats after stopping AstraZeneca jabs going to UK

EU vaccine rollout shortcomings addressed by von der Leyen

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Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said AstraZeneca subcontractor Halix, in the Netherlands, had not sent doses of the Oxford jab to the UK since the bloc implemented export controls.

Speaking in The Hague, Mr Breton gloated: “Everything has stayed in the EU.”

He said the vaccine producers must first “deliver what was promised” to EU member states.

He added he was “impressed” with the yield from the Dutch producer, which can make between 5 million and 6 million doses a month, with “a significant part” for the EU.

In January, the EU introduced export controls on vaccine exports after it accused AstraZeneca of cutting supplies intended for member states.

Since then, the jab producers have had to put official requests to member states before accepting orders from non-EU countries.

The move allowed Italy to block a shipment 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 planning to extend it until June.

Extending controls could reignite tensions with countries that rely on shots made in the EU.

A senior EU diplomat said: “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.”

Another official added that at a meeting with EU diplomats on Wednesday, many countries supported the measure, including heavyweights Germany and France.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has also called for sanctions on companies that do not respect their contractual obligations with the EU.

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Australian leaders said they were unfazed by Italy’s decision to block supplies.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the country had already received its first shipment of the vaccine, which would be enough until a batch being produced domestically by CSL Ltd was completed.

Mr Hunt said: “This is one shipment from one country.

“This shipment was not factored into our distribution plan for the coming weeks.”

But he urged the Commission and the Italian Government to rethink their decision.

On Friday, French Health Minister Olivier Veran said France could also block shipments of COVID-19 vaccines to non-EU countries, similar to moves by Italy.

Asked by BFM TV if France could follow Italy’s move on this, Mr Veran replied: “We could”.

Until the decision to bloc the shipment to Australia, the EU had authorised all requests for export since the scheme’s debut on January 30 to February 26, which amounted to 150 requests for millions of shots to 29 countries, including Britain, the United Arab Emirates and Canada.

Export requests mostly concern the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine which is manufactured in Belgium. AstraZeneca and Moderna shots have also been exported from the EU.

Since January 30 more than 8 million vaccines were shipped from the EU to Britain, a third EU source told Reuters.

Britain has so far prevented the export of AstraZeneca vaccines to the EU, using a UK-first clause in its supply contract with the Anglo-Swedish firm.

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