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European Union threatens tougher vaccine export curbs, escalating feud with U.S. and Britain

"Open roads run in both directions, and this is why we need to ensure that there is reciprocity and proportionality," said the president of the European Commission.
uropean Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the bloc was "ready to use whatever tools" needed to ensure that it gets its fair share of vaccines. Johanna Geron / AFP via Getty Images
/ Source: Reuters

The European Union on Wednesday threatened to take tougher measures to curb the export of Covid-19 vaccines, escalating a feud with the U.S. and Britain over their handling of deliveries to the 27-nation bloc.

With the E.U. facing a third wave of the pandemic, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at a news conference Wednesday that bloc members were "ready to use whatever tools we need" to ensure it got its fair share.

Noting that the E.U. had exported around 41 million vaccine doses to other countries, she said that "open roads run in both directions, and this is why we need to ensure that there is reciprocity and proportionality."

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Without naming any country, she added that if the situation did not change "we will have to reflect on how to make exports to vaccine-producing countries dependent on their level of openness."

Von der Leyen said that the flow of vaccine products was smooth with the U.S. but aired frustration over the lack of deliveries from AstraZeneca in Britain.

She said 10 million doses had gone from E.U. plants to the U.K., but the bloc was "still waiting for doses to come from the U.K."

In the six weeks from Jan. 30, when the E.U. put in place a system requiring authorization of vaccine exports, drugmakers shipped 9.1 million doses to Britain and 1 million to the United States from plants in the bloc.

Von der Leyen also criticized the Anglo-Swedish vaccine-maker AstraZeneca, accusing the pharmaceutical company of slowing the E.U.'s vaccination campaign and warning that the bloc was "weighing export bans to ensure supplies."

"AstraZeneca has unfortunately underproduced and underdelivered, and this painfully, of course, reduced the speed of the vaccination campaign," she said.

The company originally pledged to deliver 90 million doses in the first three months of the year, but later said it could provide only 40 million, then more recently only 30 million, she added. However, she said the E.U. still aimed to vaccinate 70 percent of all adults by September.

AstraZeneca has also had to deal with reports of some recipients of its shot developing dangerous blood clots, although the company and international regulators say there is no evidence the vaccine is to blame. Several countries, including Germany, France, Italy and Spain, have suspended its use.

The European Medicines Agency has said it was investigating reports of 30 cases of unusual blood disorders out of 5 million recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine. In total, 45 million Covid-19 shots have been delivered across the region.

The E.U. regulator will release its findings on Thursday, but Chief Executive Emer Cooke said she saw no reason to change its recommendation of AstraZeneca — one of four vaccines that it has approved for use.

A World Health Organization vaccine safety panel also said Wednesday that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh its risks and recommends that vaccinations continue.

The WHO listed AstraZeneca and Oxford University's vaccine for emergency use last month, widening access to the relatively inexpensive shot in the developing world.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.