EU vaccines

EU leaders agree to increase vaccine production, block AstraZeneca exports

French President Emmanuel Macron at the press conference after Friday's European Council summit.
French President Emmanuel Macron at the press conference after Friday's European Council summit. REUTERS - BENOIT TESSIER

Frustrated over a massive shortfall in contracted deliveries of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines, EU leaders have agreed to increase production within the bloc, as a third wave of infections surges across Europe. French President Emmanuel Macron is among those supporting a block on AstraZeneca vaccine exports from European production facilities.

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European Union leaders agreed on Thursday to increase the production of Covid-19 vaccines in Europe and to endeavour to improve the rollout of inoculations across member states.

It is "absolutely vital" that the EU continue working toward improving its vaccine production capabilities, European Council President Charles Michel said following the EU virtual summit.

With inoculation programmes in the bloc running far behind those of Britain and the United States, the Commission warned that vaccine exports by AstraZeneca would be blocked until the pharmaceutical company delivered the shots it promised to the EU.

"I think it is clear that, first of all, the company has to catch up, has to honour the contract it has with the European member states, before it can engage again in exporting vaccines," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, renewing a threat she made on Wednesday to stop the pharmaceutical giant exporting vaccines made in the EU.

“We have to, and want to, explain to our European citizens that they get their fair share,” she said.

AstraZeneca has slashed forecasts for the number of vaccines it can produce for the EU in the first and second quarters this year.

Of the 300 million doses due to be delivered to EU countries by the end of June, AstraZeneca now aims to deliver only 100 million.

The EU, meanwhile,  has shipped off 77 million Covid vaccine doses manufactured in the bloc, according to new figures given by Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday. More than a quarter of those were to the UK.

'Let's stop being naïve'

The slow vaccine rollout is due in part to supply chain issues.

While the EU is divided over whether to take a tougher line on vaccine exports by companies that do not meet contractual commitments, French president Emmanuel Macron made it clear he backed the Commission's stance.

"Let's stop being naïve," Macron told reporters after the virtual summit. “I support the fact that we must block all exports for as long as some drug companies don't respect their commitments to Europeans.”

Macron said the EU had been late in ramping up vaccine production and inoculations. In an interview with Greek television on Tuesday he chided a slow Europe which had, unlike the US, failed to reach for the stars in its vaccine programme.

But on Thursday he said Europe was catching up and would become the world's biggest producer of vaccines this summer.

France is facing a third wave of the coronavirus epidemic but Macron defended his decision not to impose a third lockdown at the end of January, against the advice of many scientists.

"I have no mea culpa to make, no regrets. We were right to do that," Macron said.

But he admits that he is preoccupied with the situation in French hospitals and agrees that new restrictions will probably have to be taken in the coming days or weeks.

So far, 6,870,993 people have received a first dose of the vaccine in France (10.20 percent of the population), and 2,549,521 have received a second dose (3.80 percent of population).  

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