The vaccine producer AstraZeneca must “catch up” on its promised deliveries to the EU before exporting doses elsewhere, the bloc’s chief has said.
“The company has got to honour the contract it’s with member states,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday evening.
She spoke after EU leaders held a summit to debate vaccine supplies.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters this marked “the end of naivety” from the EU.
Vaccine rollouts in European Union states have started sluggishly, and thus the bloc has blamed pharmaceutical companies – primarily AstraZeneca – for not delivering promised doses. AstraZeneca has denied that it’s failing to honour its contract.
“I think it’s clear that first of all the corporate has got to catch up,” Mrs von der Leyen told a press conference after the virtual leaders’ summit.
“It has to honour the contract it’s with European member states before it can engage again in exporting vaccines,” she said. “We want to elucidate to our European citizens that they can get their justifiable share.”
The EU has been criticised, primarily by the United Kingdom and therefore the World Health Organization (WHO), for so-called vaccine nationalism after it introduced export controls on jabs produced within the bloc.
In response, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that “blockades” weren’t “sensible”.
He said that a ban would imperil the UK’s vaccination drive, which has thus far been more successful than most EU member states’ vaccine programmes.
Mr Johnson also warned that a ban that extended beyond AstraZeneca’s disputed supply could also block jabs produced for BioNTech/Pfizer in Belgium.
But Mrs von der Leyen hit back on Thursday, arguing that the EU was the “region that exports most vaccines worldwide”.
“We invite others to match our openness,” she said. The EU chief Ursula von der Leyen earlier tweeted “In addition, as a lead donor to COVAX, it has contributed to exports to low- & middle-income countries.” While remaining open, the EU needs to ensure Europeans get a fair share of vaccines.
Her comments came each day after the EU issued a joint statement with the United Kingdom during which each side pledged to figure together after weeks of tensions over the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.