The EU has announced new vaccine export powers amid a contract row with AstraZeneca.
TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has responded to reports that there are 29 million AstraZeneca vaccines in a factory in Italy by saying that they should not be blocked from being sent outside the EU, and the supply chain for Covid-19 vaccine supplies must be kept open.
Tomorrow, a European summit is being held to discuss whether the European Union will use new powers to keep vaccines produced in the EU within the bloc if it meets certain criteria.
These include whether the destination country restrict its own exports of vaccines or raw materials, and whether the epidemiological conditions and vaccine rollout in the destination country are better or worse than the EU’s.
AstraZeneca is “not even close” to delivering 30 million doses promised in the first three months of this year – which were already well below the 120 million they had been under contract to supply – European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said.
There has been some suggestion in recent days that millions of AstraZeneca vaccines in the Dutch/Italian plants would be exported to the UK, despite no AStraZeneca vaccine being sent from two UK plants to the EU.
In response to reports, AstraZeneca released a statement to say that 13 million of the vaccines in Italy are going to the Covax programme, which distributes vaccines to poorer countries; and a further 16 million are going to be dispatched across Europe, 10 million to be sent in March, and the rest to be dispatched in April.
The EU is a key supporter of the global fight against #COVID19 – including through its export of vaccines.
But we also need to accelerate vaccination at home.
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) March 24, 2021
Labour leader Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach in the Dáil earlier today about 29 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines currently at the Anagi plant in Italy.
A plant in the Netherlands produces the AstraZeneca vaccine, before they are sent to Italy to be packaged and exported.
In the interest of “equity and fairness” and in protecting citizens in Europe, Kelly asked whether the vaccines are to be exported from the EU:
The Taoiseach said that the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen told him on Monday night about the 29 million vaccines in Italy.
He said that some of that 29 million could be for Covax, a global initiative to distribute vaccines fairly to poorer countries; some for the UK; and some for Europe.
I fully support all measures designed to ensure that AstraZeneca fulfils its contracts with the European Union.
In addition to that though, I very strongly am committed to the principle of keeping supply chains open. That is the most fundamental way to guarantee supply, particular in quarter two.
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The Taoiseach has said that he’s had a series of meetings with the four mail vaccine suppliers, and said that Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson are keen to ensure that vaccine supply chains are kept open.
It’s possible that if some of that vaccine supply is blocked by the EU from being exported to the UK, that the UK could stop exporting ingredients used to make the Pfizer vaccine.
The Taoiseach said that 280 materials are used to crease the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which are supplied by 86 suppliers in 19 different countries. He said that if barriers in that global supply chain are put up, “we are in trouble”.
In March, the European Commission blocked the export of 250,000 AstraZeneca vaccines from Italy to Australia, under a rule that stated they could be interpreted as being part of AstraZeneca’s contractual obligations to the EU.
The EU closed an advance purchasing agreement with the Anglo-Swedish company in August last year for up to 400 million doses.
The two sides are currently locked into a dispute mechanism over the contract, as there has been a significant delay in supplying the vaccine doses promised to the EU, due to AstraZeneca’s contract with the UK reportedly clashing with the EU contract.