European Council President Charles Michel on Tuesday rejected accusations of “vaccinationalism” directed at the bloc, arguing that while Britain and the United States have a direct ban on the export of Covid-19 shots, the EU had not stopped exporting.
The EU has been under fire at home for lagging far behind former member Britain and the US in its rollout of vaccines.
It has also been criticized abroad for following China, Russia and India when it comes to deliveries of vaccines to poor countries.
Last week, it annoyed vaccine buyers abroad by approving an Italian decision to stop a delivery to Australia.
The UK received a quick response to the comments from Michel, who represents the 27 EU member states, and said that it had not blocked the export of a single Covid-19 vaccine.
“Any reference to a UK export ban or any restrictions on vaccines is completely false,” a British government spokesman said.
In a long statement, Michel presented a defense of the bloc’s strategy. He said that without Europe, it would not have been possible to develop and produce more vaccines in less than a year, and EU solidarity had ensured that the poorer countries in the bloc received their first doses.
He was referring to the “highly publicized” supply of vaccines from China and Russia to other countries.
“We should not be misled by China and Russia, both regimes with less desirable values than ours, because they organize very limited but widely published operations to deliver vaccines to others.”
Michel also noted that China and Russia had both vaccinated fewer people at home than the EU.
“Europe will not use vaccines for propaganda purposes. We promote our values,” he said.
Michel also defended a system for controlling the export of doses produced in EU countries, which Italy invoked last week to block a shipment of AstraZeneca shots to Australia.
>> France, EU supports Italy’s decision to block Covid-19 vaccine to Australia
“Our goal: to prevent companies from which we have ordered and pre-financed doses from exporting them to other advanced countries when they have not delivered to us what was promised,” says Michel. “The EU has never stopped exporting.”
Are we turning to Sputnik V?
The blunt comments come when the EU’s 27 member states are struggling to achieve a boost with a plan to vaccinate 70 percent of adults in mid-September.
The slow roll-out has been marked by serious criticism of Brussels for spearheading a collective purchase of vaccine doses that have largely not been delivered.
Much of the original shortage of delivery was due to the English-Swedish company AstraZeneca not fulfilling its delivery schedule to the European Union.
Some Member States, including Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, are increasingly looking for vaccines not approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to fill the gap, in particular Russia’s Sputnik V-jab and those from China.
EMA examines the effectiveness and safety of Sputnik V, and an Italian-Swiss pharmaceutical company, Adienne, has agreed to produce it in Italy.
But the EU’s CEO has announced that he does not want to add it to his vaccine portfolio, which is expected to deliver 2.6 billion doses during the year and next year.
Michel said the EU would become the world’s leading vaccine producer in the coming months and was best equipped to quickly adapt vaccine production to virus mutations.
The British government’s rejection of his comments came amid growing tensions between London and Brussels following the completion of Britain’s exit from the EU by the end of 2020.
Conditions strained by years of bruxism talks over Brexit took a worse turn in January when the EU briefly threatened to use emergency measures to stop coronavirus vaccines from blocking Northern Ireland, a British-ruled province bordering EU member Ireland.
“This pandemic is a global challenge and international cooperation on vaccine development continues to be an integral part of our response,” said a British government spokesman.
( Jowharwith REUTERS, AFP)