The European Union is poised to introduce emergency legislation that will allow it to control exports of COVID-19 vaccines amid an escalating row over supplies that has threatened to derail inoculation efforts in the 27-member bloc.
A draft of those rules is expected to be announced on Wednesday, according to The New York Times, which saw a copy and confirmed it with EU sources. The legislation is aimed chiefly at halting exports of vaccines from AstraZeneca
to the rest of the world.
The Anglo-Swedish drug maker warned in January that it wouldn’t be able to fulfill its delivery obligations to the EU, due to manufacturing issues at some of its European plants. The shortfall in deliveries led to a high-profile row with the EU, which has lagged behind countries like the U.S., the U.K. and Israel in rolling out vaccine shots for its healthcare workers and most vulnerable people.
AstraZeneca has consistently said that it wasn’t legally required to deliver to the EU on a precise timetable, because it had only committed to supplying vaccines under a “best-effort” clause.
Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen threatened to use emergency powers to curb exports, as she pointed out the EU has allowed for 41 million doses to be sent to 33 countries since early February. She said that AstraZeneca has overpromised and underdelivered on its contract with the EU, though the same can’t be said for Pfizer-BioNTech
The tightening of export rules is a further setback for AstraZeneca after some countries temporarily suspended the use of the vaccine over concerns about blood clots in some recipients. Several countries restarted their innoculation campaigns after the European Medicines Agency last week declared the vaccine “safe and effective” after its own investigation found no link to blood clots.
AstraZeneca has said its own review of safety data of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the U.K. and European Union had shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, AstraZeneca was accused by U.S. health officials of including “outdated information” in a study of its vaccine. AstraZeneca promised to share updated data with the U.S. within 48 hours.