With its vaccine rollout floundering and AstraZeneca continuing to undercut public confidence in its vaccine, the European Union has decided to expand plans to curtail exports of any jabs produced within the bloc after initially warning London that it would halt exports of AstraZeneca jabs after production problems delayed delivery.
After offering the UK just a fraction of the AstraZeneca vaccine exports it had initially promised, a senior EU official reportedly told Bloomberg that Brussels is planning to abolish exemptions to established vaccine-export controls affecting some 90 countries. During a Wednesday meeting, the European Commission will revise the system it uses to screen export requests, raising the bar for allowing exports from privately owned factories (including factories owned by AstraZeneca in the Netherlands) to proceed, according to Bloomberg.
The Commission will look to establish national vaccination rates as a “qualitative consideration” for evaluating requests for export. In other words, Brussels will no longer approve exports to countries with high vaccination rates, like, for example, the UK.
Notably, the new criteria will apply to all vaccines, not just those produced by AstraZeneca. This means that export requests from companies such as Pfizer and Moderna could face rejections, further complicating the global rollout.
Last week, Commission head Ursula von der Leyen warned that the EU could halt exports of vaccines to nations that don’t exhibit sufficient “reciprocity.”
As it turns out, for all the virtue-signaling about “vaccine nationalism”, European bureaucrats are choosing to put their national interest first as Germany, the Continent’s largest economy, becomes the latest member state to extend or revive lockdown measures in the face of a “third wave” of the virus. Covax, the WHO’s Gates-backed program to supply COVID vaccines to poorer nations, is depending on the cheap, easy to store, AstraZeneca jab. Even though Europeans remain highly skeptical, Brussels is becoming extremely covetous.
Newly installed WTO Chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former top Nigerian economic official who this year became the first African to lead the international trade body, slagged Brussels’ decision and said she was engaging the EU to discuss the planned measure, according to Reuters.
“While we understand the politics of what they are doing – I have said openly I am disappointed, particularly in the fact that they extended it from March,” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said at a WTO online event, saying export restrictions must be temporary. “I am actively talking to them about how we can make sure this restriction can be dealt with,” she added.
Since starting her new job on March 1, Okonjo-Iweala has been one of the most visible advocates for an intellectual property waiver that would allow producers in India, South Africa and elsewhere to produce more jabs on their own (instead of being forced to purchase them from western drugmakers). Even as the developing world falls further behind the US and UK in terms of vaccination rates, the push for the IP waiver has effectively stalled at the WTO.
Soon, developing nations won’t even be able to buy sufficient quantities of vaccines from Europe, even as the deadly new Brazilian mutation has been tracked to more than a dozen countries in Latin America, threatening to accelerate infections in one of the world’s worst-hit regions.