President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.

Thierry Monasse | Getty Images News | Getty Images

LONDON – The European Union has tightened strict rules on the export of Covid vaccines while putting pressure on AstraZeneca to deliver more shots to the area.

It is because the sluggish introduction of vaccines in the region is under scrutiny, even as the EU continues to export millions of coronavirus shots abroad.

In order to gain a stronger negotiating position with pharmaceutical companies that fail to meet delivery targets, the bloc has expanded its strict rules on vaccine exports.

Before approving the delivery of Covid-19 shots, the EU will check whether the recipient country has any restrictions on vaccines or raw materials and whether it is in a better epidemiological situation.

“We want to make sure that Europe gets its fair share of vaccines. Because we have to explain to our citizens that companies that export their vaccines around the world are fully committed to their commitments and are not taking any risks.” Security of supply in the European Union, “said the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on Thursday.

We all know we could have been a lot faster if all the pharmaceutical companies had fulfilled their contracts.

Ursula von der Leyen

President of the European Commission

The data released on Thursday showed that the EU has exported 77 million cans of Covid shots to 33 countries around the world since December. At the same time, 88 million were delivered to EU countries, of which 62 million were managed. As such, the EU has exported more shots than it has previously given its citizens.

However, some EU countries have raised concerns about stricter export regulations, with countries like Belgium and the Netherlands wanting supply chains to remain open. There is a risk that stopping vaccine exports will trigger a trade war and other parts of the world – which produce the raw materials needed to make vaccines – stop shipping to Europe.

Pressure on AstraZeneca

The EU has also quarreled with the Swedish-UK drug maker over not firing as many Covid shots as the bloc expected.

The 27 nations waited for 90 million doses of this vaccine in the first quarter and 180 million in the second quarter of 2021. However, AstraZeneca said that due to manufacturing issues, only 30 million doses can be dispensed by the end of March and 70 million between April and June.

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The reduced delivery targets are a problem for EU countries, some of which wanted more of this vaccine as it is cheaper and easier to store than others. Further delivery delays to Europe could affect the broader rollout plans.

“We all know we could have been much faster if all pharmaceutical companies had fulfilled their contracts,” said von der Leyen on Thursday.

During a press conference, she added that AstraZeneca “needs to catch up, respect the treaty with European member states, before it can export vaccines again”.

The introduction of vaccines in the EU has posed a number of challenges from the start and the Commission, which has negotiated with drug manufacturers, has been criticized for taking too long to sign vaccination contracts.

Italy’s former Prime Minister Mario Monti told CNBC on Friday: “We shouldn’t be surprised that Europe has reacted quite well in terms of the monetary and financial response to the pandemic and so far not quite (so) in terms of procurement and in terms of the pandemic industrial response. “

He argued that while the EU countries have integrated their monetary policy and part of their fiscal responses, “there has never been a health union”.

Individual governments remain responsible for their own health policies, while areas such as international trade remain the primary responsibility of the European Commission.

A deal with the UK

The EU’s stricter export regulations could become a problem especially for the UK, which has received vaccines from the EU. The vaccination rate is higher than that of the block based on the number of first doses given.

European Commission figures show the UK has received 21 million doses of vaccine block-made – the highest share of EU exports yet. The UK has so far given its population 31 million doses of Covid-19 syringes, suggesting that around two-thirds of the vaccines used in the UK come from the EU.

“We discussed what else we can do to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship between the UK and the EU on Covid-19,” the two sides said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

“Given our interdependencies, we are working on specific steps that we can take in the short, medium and long term to create a win-win situation and expand the supply of vaccines to all of our citizens.”

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said at a press conference on Thursday that a vaccine deal between the EU and Great Britain could be announced on Saturday.