LONDON — The European Union is “facing a serious situation” in rolling out Covid-19 shots, but it is “highly unfair” to accuse the bloc of vaccine nationalism, the region’s trade chief told CNBC on Tuesday.
Since the start of its vaccination program, the EU has faced a slew of criticism, including for being too slow to approve vaccines and blocking exports of Covid-19 shots.
At the same time, delivery issues with the AstraZeneca vaccine have hit deployment of shots during the first quarter and there are concerns in Brussels about whether contractual commitments will be fully respected in the next three months.
“Clearly we are facing a serious situation in vaccine rollout. We need to speed up the vaccination, we need to speed up both vaccine production and supply,” Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU’s trade chief, told CNBC’s Squawk Box Europe.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, has been working with different pharmaceutical firms to boost vaccine production across the member states. The institution wants to see 70% of the adult population in Europe vaccinated by the end of the summer.
However, meeting this target will depend on whether firms deliver the amount of vaccines that the bloc is expecting, as well as member states’ ability to distribute the shots among their populations.
AstraZeneca has already cut its delivery numbers twice for the first quarter, and said it will be distributing less than half of the original target for the second quarter too.
Given how important the AstraZeneca shot is for the EU’s vaccination program, European officials are considering whether they should impose tougher restrictions on exports. They could, for instance, prevent shots produced in the EU to being sent elsewhere, in particular to the U.K. where the vaccination rate is significantly higher than among the 27 countries.
This has sparked accusations that the EU is practicing vaccine nationalism.
“We think it is highly unfair to accuse the EU, which is one of the largest vaccine exporters, of vaccine nationalism,” Dombrovskis said.
The EU reported last week that it had exported 41 million doses of Covid-19 shots to 33 countries, with the U.K. being the biggest recipient. At the same time, the EU has said it is not seeing the same level of reciprocity from other parts of the world.
However, the EU also stopped a shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines to Australia earlier this month due to the delivery issues with the pharmaceutical firm.
The legislation that allowed the EU to stop this shipment is due to expire at the end of the month. As a result, EU officials are considering whether to extend and toughen these laws going forward.
“What is important right now is companies actually honoring their contracts, because the problem we are facing, especially with one company that is not honoring the contract, that the vaccine supplies are way behind of what has been agreed,” Dombrovskis said.
In the next three months, the European Union is expecting 55 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson shot, 200 million doses of the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine, 35 million from Moderna and another 70 million from AstraZeneca.
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