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EU chief highlights bloc’s vaccine exports

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday released updated figures showing Europe as the world's biggest exporter of Covid-19 vaccines, parrying UK accusations that Brussels is engaged in vaccine "nationalism".

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen gives a press conference with the US Secretary of State ahead of their meeting in Brussels, on March 24, 2021. (Photo by Virginia Mayo / POOL / AFP)

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday released updated figures showing Europe as the world’s biggest exporter of Covid-19 vaccines, parrying UK accusations that Brussels is engaged in vaccine “nationalism”.

The European Commission president presented the numbers at a video summit on EU leaders being held a day after her European Commission tightened rules on authorising vaccine shipments out of the bloc.

Presented as a video slideshow, the post showed around 77 million vaccine doses have been exported from the European Union since December.

That figure comprised 46 million doses sent directly to 33 countries for their vaccination drives and 31 million doses delivered to 54 countries under Covax, the World Health Organization-backed initiative to provide vaccines to low and middle-income countries.

The data also showed, by way of comparison, vaccine deliveries in the European Union.

By the end of this week, 88 million doses will have been delivered in the 27-nation bloc, with 62 million jabs carried out and 18.2 million people — 4.1 percent of the EU’s population of 450 million — fully vaccinated with two jabs.

The graphs underlined the slow start to Europe’s vaccination rollout, with just 100 million doses supplied in the first quarter by three vaccine makers: 66 million from BioNTech/Pfizer, 10 million from Moderna and just 30 million (of a contracted 120 million) from AstraZeneca.

– EU deliveries –
Estimates for the second quarter showed 360 million doses should be delivered: 200 million from BioNTech/Pfizer, 35 million from Moderna, 70 million from AstraZeneca (from 180 million originally promised) and 55 million from Johnson & Johnson.

“Together we will ensure that Europeans get their fair share of vaccines,” von der Leyen tweeted.

Her post was intended as a rebuke to Britain, which fears that an EU export authorisation scheme for vaccines leaving the bloc could hobble its vaccination rollout, which is running into headwinds after zooming along for three months.

AstraZeneca is the focus of the dispute between Brussels and London.

The Anglo-Swedish company is the mainstay of the UK rollout and was meant to have been the first-quarter kickstart to Europe’s effort but fell badly short.

Both sides are laying claim to AstraZeneca production from a plant in the Netherlands that is about to be authorised for operation.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has accused Brussels of wanting to break contract law and risking the EU’s reputation of openness by tightening the export authorisation mechanism.

However, on Wednesday both sides issued a joint statement speaking of the need to cooperate, given their inter-dependencies in vaccine production, to achieve a “win-win” outcome.