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World Health Organization criticises European Union over vaccine export controls

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Posted: Saturday, January 30, 2021. 10:27 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: The World Health Organization (WHO) says new rules adopted by the European Union for controlling exports on vaccines produced in the bloc risked prolonging the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the BBC, while Brussels says it must act over the drug companies’ shortfall in vaccine delivery.

The European Commission, executive body of the Union, has ruled members have power to deny authorisation for vaccine exports if the company making them has not honoured existing contracts with the EU. Under the EU’s new rule, vaccine firms will have to seek permission before supplying doses beyond the EU. Its 27 member states will be able to vet those export applications.

But speaking at the virtual Davos Agenda meeting, WHO head Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “vaccine nationalism” could lead to a “protracted recovery”. Vaccine hoarding would “keep the pandemic burning and… slow global economic recovery”, in addition to being a “catastrophic moral failure” that could further widen global inequality, he added.

The controls will affect some 100 countries worldwide – including the UK, the US, Canada and Australia – but many others, including poorer nations, are exempt. However, the EU has been forced to backtrack on plans to impose restrictions on the export of vaccines across the border on the island of Ireland after outcry from Dublin and London. The EU insists its controls are a temporary scheme, not an export ban.

The Commission publicly released its contract with AstraZeneca, the British-Swedish company behind the Oxford vaccine, accusing it of failing to fulfil its promises (“best reasonable efforts” according to the contract) to deliver to the bloc.

AstraZeneca has blamed the delays on production glitches at plants in the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as the late signing of contracts.

The EU is also in a supply dispute with Pfizer, which is set to fall short of the contracted vaccine volume for the EU by the end of March. Pfizer says the reason for that is the urgent expansion of its facility in Puurs, Belgium.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told the BBC vaccines should be given to all vulnerable groups and health workers across the globe before each country starts giving the jabs out more widely, meaning halting immunization at home after priority groups had been vaccinated and instead helping with vaccinations elsewhere.

So far 95% of all vaccinations had taken place in just 10 countries, Harris said, while only two low- and middle-income countries had even begun immunisation programmes.

 

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