(Jeff_L) #1
30 January 2021 | New Scientist | 7

THE European Union has taken a
first step towards clamping down
on the export of coronavirus
vaccines after pharmaceutical
firm AstraZeneca told the bloc it
would deliver far fewer doses than
expected in the next months. The
EU hasn’t stopped manufacturers
from selling to outside nations,
including the UK, but has taken
a step towards this by requiring
vaccine manufacturers to give
notice before exporting.
“In the future, all companies
producing vaccines against
covid-19 in the EU will have
to provide early notification
whenever they want to export
vaccines to third countries,”
said Stella Kyriakides, the EU
commissioner for health,
on 25 January. “Humanitarian
deliveries are, of course, not
affected by this. The European

Union will take any action required
to protect its citizens and rights.”
Even before it was clear whether
any vaccine would work, many
countries signed deals with
vaccine-makers to provide set
numbers of doses by certain dates.
As part of these, countries paid
in advance for the preparation
of manufacturing facilities.
AstraZeneca was meant to
deliver 80 million doses of its
vaccine to the EU by the end
of March. The EU hasn’t yet
approved this vaccine, but
is expected to do so soon.
Last week, AstraZeneca told the
EU that it would only be able to
deliver 31 million doses. According
to Reuters, this is because the EU

doses are being made at a vaccine
factory in Belgium run by a
company called Novasep that
has faced production problems.
“This new schedule is not
acceptable,” said Kyriakides.
She sent AstraZeneca a letter in
response, asking questions such as
how many doses have been made
where and to whom they have
been sent. “The answers of the
company have not been
satisfactory so far,” said Kyriakides.
According to Robert Peston,
political editor for ITV News,
part of the problem is that
although AstraZeneca reached
initial agreements with several
EU countries in June, the European
Commission then took over the

Vaccine producers exporting to countries outside the European Union,
including the UK, will face new roadblocks, says Michael Le Page

EU squeeze on vaccines









negotiations and didn’t finalise
the contract until August.
That left little time to sort out
supply issues.
By contrast, the UK finalised
its contract with AstraZeneca
in May. Peston also says that all
these deals were on a “best effort”
basis, given the challenge of
producing such huge numbers
of doses in record time.

AstraZeneca is charging all
countries the same price apart
from small adjustments based on
local costs. The company declined
to comment on specific details,
but did confirm that it is supplying
the vaccine on a non-profit basis.
“The vaccine will be supplied at
no profit globally for the duration
of the pandemic,” a spokesperson
for AstraZeneca told New Scientist.
The EU has also ordered
600 million doses of the vaccine
created by Pfizer and BioNTech.
It received fewer deliveries than
expected in the second half of
January due to Pfizer upgrading
its factory in Puurs, Belgium, but
normal supply was due to resume
on 25 January, with increased
deliveries from 15 February.
Many less wealthy countries
around the world have yet to
procure any vaccine. There is a
global initiative called COVAX, led
by the World Health Organization
(WHO), which is trying to ensure
that poorer countries get a
supply. It has raised $6 billion
to buy and distribute vaccines.
“More than 39 million doses
of vaccine have now been
administered in at least 49
higher-income countries,” said
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,
director-general of the WHO, on
18 January. “Just 25 doses have
been given in one lowest-income
country. Not 25 million, not
25,000, just 25.” ❚

European health
Stella Kyriakides

“The European Union
will take any action
required to protect
its citizens and rights”

Daily coronavirus news round-up
Online every weekday at 6pm GMT

Free download pdf