The EU units export controls for coronavirus vaccines

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, speaks to the media in Berlaymont, the seat of the EU Commission.

Thierry Monasse

LONDON – The European Union temporarily controlled the export of block-made coronavirus vaccines on Friday after the UK pharmaceutical company spat at AstraZeneca and other supply issues.

Pfizer recently received two massive blows stating that production should be temporarily reduced while production capacity at the Belgian facility is improved. Last week, AstraZeneca also said it would ship far fewer cans to the EU than originally expected this spring due to production problems at its plants in the Netherlands and Belgium.

After the EU pressured AstraZeneca this week to meet its commitments and then asked the company to move UK-made vaccines to the block, the EU confirmed on Friday that temporary controls will be in place.

"Protecting the health of our citizens remains our top priority and we must take the necessary measures to achieve this," said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Friday.

"This transparency and approval mechanism is temporary and we will of course continue to honor our commitments to low and middle income countries."

The controls are expected to last until the end of March. The bloc also triggered Article 16 of its Brexit deal with the UK, which means exports cannot be sent to Northern Ireland, which could potentially serve as a back door to the rest of the country.

"This time-limited and targeted system only covers those Covid-19 vaccines that have been agreed with the EU under Advanced Purchase Agreements," said Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice President and Commissioner for Trade of the EU.

"This mechanism includes a wide range of exemptions to fully meet our humanitarian commitments and protect the delivery of vaccines to our neighborhood and to countries in need covered by the COVAX facility."

EU approves AstraZeneca vaccine

The European Union has been under pressure from what critics are calling the slow adoption of Covid vaccines. The European Commission, the institution that runs the sales contracts, has been accused of not securing enough vaccines and the region's medical agency has been criticized for taking too long to approve vaccinations that have given the go-ahead elsewhere have received.

On Friday, the European Medicines Agency approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use in the EU, about a month after it first received the green light in the UK, which recently left the block.

Speaking to CNBC on Friday, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin denied that this spit between Brussels and a British pharmaceutical company had turned into another "Brexit fight".

"Overall, I think the European Commission has behaved well and effectively when it comes to vaccine procurement," he said. "There is a lot of tension out there … a lot of pressure on the Commission from the Member States, from the Prime Ministers. Why? Because the people are under pressure, the people are under pressure."

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