Covid-19: EU tells AstraZeneca to 'catch-up' with contract before exporting doses elsewhere

The EU has not confirmed if it will bring in tougher export rules on Covid jabs as anxiety grows around shortfalls in supply.

The European Commission president has told the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca it needs to play “catch-up” with its EU contract before exporting doses elsewhere round the world.

Her comments were made on Thursday when 27 European leaders met to talk about the vaccine roll-out.

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Ms von der Leyen said: “Companies have to honour their contract to the European Union before they export to other regions in the world. This is of course the case with AstraZeneca.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

“I think it is clear that the company (AstraZeneca) has to catch up and honour the contract it has with the EU member states before it can engage again in exporting vaccines.”

She added: “We have worldwide supply chains that have to be intact and it is of the utmost importance that we get back to an attitude of openness.”

But leaders appeared to be divided on the issue following the summit, with French president Emmanuel Macron insisting that the EU is “no longer naive” after botching its own rollout.

Where does this leave the UK?

The EU believes that the UK has been given an unfair advantage with contracts signed with vaccine manufacturers, which comes as 50% of the UK population have been jabbed, compared to 11% in the EU.

Following the summit, Belgian prime minister Alexander de Croo said that he believed the EU’s dispute with the UK over vaccine supplies “can be resolved” as he referred to a phone call with Mr Johnson last week.

“We think that the discussion we have with the United Kingdom can be resolved based on good agreements,” Mr de Croo told a Brussels press conference.

Striking a similar tone, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said that he was “cautiously optimistic” that divisions between the UK and the EU could be resolved.

“I think that on Saturday or soon after, they could come to an agreement which would be very helpful because we are friends, the UK and the rest of Europe, and we need each other,” he told reporters.

Will there be tougher export rules now on the AstraZeneca vaccine?

Ursula von der Leyen urged “transparency” from other countries, but did not confirm if the EU would bring in tougher export restrictions on coronavirus jabs, amid a row over supplies with the British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant.

However, she acknowledged that worldwide supply chains needed to remain “intact” for vaccine production.

Addressing a Brussels press conference following a meeting of the European Council on Thursday, Ms von der Leyen said she had “no knowledge” of the UK exporting jabs, while 77 million doses had been exported to 33 countries by the EU so far.

It came after Mr Johnson acknowledged the “moral complexities” around a domestic coronavirus certificate and suggested that it might only be possible to introduce one after all adults had been offered a vaccine at the end of July.

The Government will say more on the possible use of Covid status certificates in early April, which could be based on whether people have developed antibodies through infection, as well as vaccinations and negative tests.