EU threatens legal action over virus vaccines
Brusssels – Europe’s fight to secure coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine supplies intensified on Thursday when the European Union (EU) warned drug companies such as AstraZeneca that it would use all legal means or even block exports unless they agreed to deliver shots as promised.
The EU, whose member states are far behind Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States in rolling out vaccines, is scrambling to get supplies just as the West’s biggest drugmakers slow deliveries to the bloc due to production problems.
As vaccination centres in Germany, France and Spain cancelled or delayed appointments, the EU publicly rebuked Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca for failing to deliver and even asked if it could divert supplies from Britain.
European Council President Charles Michel said in a letter to four EU leaders that the EU should explore legal means to ensure supplies of COVID-19 vaccines it contracted to buy if negotiations with companies over delayed deliveries are unsuccessful.
“If no satisfactory solution can be found, I believe we should explore all options and make use of all legal means and enforcement measures at our disposal under the Treaties,” Michel said in the January 27 letter.
EU rules on monitoring and authorising exports of COVID-19 vaccines in the 27-nation bloc could lead to exports being blocked if they violated existing contracts between the vaccine maker and the EU, an EU official said.
The European Commission is to lay out the criteria under which such exports would be evaluated on Friday.
The swiftest mass vaccination drive in history is stoking tensions across the world as big powers buy up doses in bulk and poorer nations try to navigate a financial and diplomatic minefield to collect whatever supplies are left.
Israel is by far the world leader on vaccine rollout per head of population, followed by the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Bahrain and the United States. Behind them are Italy, Germany, France, China and Russia.
The African Union (AU) has secured another 400 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, a regional health leader said on Thursday, in a push to immunize 60 per cent of the continent’s population over three years. (Reuters)