The European Union could open a “Pandora’s Box” if it decides to restrict exports of coronavirus vaccines, a political analyst told CNBC last week.

Vaccinations in the 27-person block were hampered by production problems. Anglo-Swedish company AstraZeneca lowered its target for the first quarter from 90 million cans to 30 million cans earlier this year.

The shot, developed in collaboration with Oxford University, is preferred for the launch of vaccines in the European Union.

Officials have already imposed strict rules on export. The EU will check whether the receiving country has the virus under better control than Europe and whether there are any restrictions on vaccines or raw materials before allowing the shots to be sent.

However, some EU countries have concerns about the new rules and want the supply chains to remain open.

There is tremendous political pressure … to experiment with some kind of vaccine nationalism.

James Crabtree

Associate professor in practice

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen “is really fighting” because other rich countries are doing much better than the EU on vaccinations, said James Crabtree, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

“There is tremendous political pressure … to experiment with some kind of vaccine nationalism,” Crabtree told CNBC’s Street Signs Asia on Friday.

“This is of course very dangerous as the EU is usually one of the most responsible international actors,” he said.

‘Pandora’s Box’

He also warned that other countries could follow the EU’s lead in prioritizing vaccines for local populations.

“When it tries to restrict the flow of vaccine from EU factories, it opens a Pandora’s box where countries like India may begin to do the same,” Crabtree said.

That could be very harmful as new variants of Covid are likely to keep popping up, he added.

EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis said it was “highly unfair” to accuse the EU of vaccine nationalism because it is “one of the largest vaccine exporters”.

Data shows that since December the EU has exported 77 million cans of the shots to 33 countries, while 88 million have been shipped to EU countries.

The bloc has also complained that London lacks the same level of reciprocity in the distribution of vaccines.

Heather Conley of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) noted that the UK and the EU are working towards a “mutually beneficial relationship”.

Still, leaders in Europe are nervous about their political futures as some countries vote in the coming year or so, said Conley, director of the Europe, Russia and Eurasia program at CSIS.

“The political anger of the heads of state and government and this hysteria about the political future will lead the EU to take action that could ultimately counter its long-term interest in embracing these vaccines very quickly,” she told Friday CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia”.

“I think the international damage this would do to global vaccine production would be greater than the increased number of vaccines in the EU,” she said.

A doctor administers the Astrazeneca vaccine at a mass coronavirus (COVID-19) drive-through clinic in Milan, Italy on March 15, 2021.

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