Coronavirus: Vaccine supply fears grow amid EU export threat

The EU has warned Covid vaccine producers they must deliver agreed supplies, amid fears reductions could seriously hamper its inoculation drive.

AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech have both said production problems mean they cannot supply the expected numbers.

The EU warned it could restrict exports of vaccines made in the bloc, with Germany’s health minister demanding “fair distribution”.

The UK’s vaccine minister warned of “the dead end of vaccine nationalism”.AstraZeneca is mainly produced in the UK, while the UK’s supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine come from the company’s Belgian plant.

Vaccine supply has become a critical issue as nations seek to stem high infection rates.

Separately, the German health ministry joined AstraZeneca in strongly denying some reports in German media of a lower efficacy rate for its vaccine among older people.

What are the supply fears?

Last week, AstraZeneca told the EU it was falling behind on its supply target because of production problems and Pfizer-BioNTech has also said supplies of its vaccine will be lower.

In response, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides has now said companies making Covid vaccines in the bloc will have to “provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries”.

She said the 27-member EU bloc would “take any action required to protect its citizens”.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn backed her call, saying: “This is not about EU first, this is about Europe’s fair share.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel told the virtual version of the annual World Economic Forum, usually held in Davos, there should be a “fair distribution” across the world.

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European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen earlier told forum: “Europe invested billions to help develop the world’s first Covid-19 vaccines. And now, the companies must deliver. They must honour their obligations.”

The row could affect supplies to the UK of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Responding to the EU’s comments, the UK’s Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment Nadhim Zahawi said on Tuesday that supplies were “tight” and warned against what he called “the dead end of vaccine nationalism”, adding: “No-one is safe until the whole world is safe.”

He said he was confident the UK would receive enough doses to meet its targets – a first dose to 15 million of the most vulnerable by mid-February and to offer all adults their first dose by autumn.

The EU has already faced criticism for the slow rollout of vaccines, which it buys on behalf of all member states.

Source: BBC