The European Union will extend a mechanism that permits it to block exports of coronavirus vaccines abroad by three months, to the end of June, the bloc said on Thursday, as global trade wars over scarce doses ratchet up.
The decision was announced a day after closely held data on vaccine exports from facilities based in the European Union were published by The New York Times, revealing that the bloc had been a vaccine exporting powerhouse. The report stoked an intense debate over whether the European Union should be permitting any exports at all, in view of its underwhelming rollout at home, which is in part because of supply shortages.
The bloc has come under fierce criticism for “vaccine nationalism” and protectionism, which intensified last week when Italy blocked a small shipment of doses to Australia.
The export mechanism only applies to the shipping of vaccines from companies that are also providing them to the European Union. The mechanism exempts some countries close to the bloc and also developing nations, on humanitarian grounds.
Since the mechanism was put in place in February, 249 export requests to 31 different countries were granted, for more than 34 million doses. The approvals were granted “because they did not threaten the contractual arrangement between the E.U. and the vaccine producers,” Miriam García Ferrer, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, said. “Only one export has been refused,” she added.
The European Union saw deliveries from all three of its approved vaccine suppliers — AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer — cut in the first quarter of this year, with AstraZeneca being by far the most impactful. The company curtailed its deliveries by more than half, disrupting rollout plans in member nations, which have also been slowed by logistical and administrative problems.
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