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EU warns pharma firms 'must deliver' on vaccines

January 26, 2021

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke at Davos after a row between the EU and drugmaker AstraZeneca. But South African President Cyril Ramaphosa hit out at what he branded 'vaccine nationalism.'

Vials of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine
AstraZeneca told the EU last Friday it could not meet agreed supply targets up to the end of MarchImage: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Global pharma giants who have promised to send coronavirus vaccines to the EU "must deliver," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told an online Davos forumon Tuesday.

"The EU helped with money to build research capacity and production facilities early on. Europe invested billions to help develop the world's first COVID-19 vaccines. To create a truly global common good."

"Now the companies must deliver. They must honor their obligations. This is why we will set up a vaccine export transparency mechanism."

What is the row between the EU and vaccine makers?

Her remarks came one day after a row between the EU and the British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca.

EU officials accuse the firm of breaching its contractual obligations to deliver vaccines to the 27-member bloc.

The European Commission, with the support of the German government, wants to create a new export mechanism.

It would force pharmaceutical companies to notify the EU executive before they ship vaccines to non-EU countries.

Responding to British media reports that the EU wanted to block shipments of jabs, a Commission spokesman said: "This is not about blocking, this is about knowing what the companies are exporting or will export to markets outside the EU."

But German Health minister Jens Spahn told DW: "It makes sense that we have an export restriction. 

"That means that vaccines that leave the European Union need a permit so that we can first of all know what is being manufactured in Europe, what is leaving Europe, where it is leaving Europe and whether it is then also a fair distribution."

Spahn calls for licensing vaccine exports

AstraZeneca will 'suffer'

Speaking with DW, Peter Liese, a German member of the European Parliament, warned British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca that it will "suffer" if it does not correct its shortfall of coronavirus vaccines in the European Union. Liese said it appeared that AstraZeneca was favoring the UK over the EU when it came to vaccine deliveries.

"They have a contract with the European Union, not only with the UK and here the company is not really playing fair, and that's what has to be changed," he said, adding: "They cannot afford to to fail the European Union like this. They will suffer from this very much if they don't correct it during the coming days."

Liese said, "When European citizens and European doctors feel treated like second class, why should they use the other drugs that AstraZeneca wants to sell? So it's not only about politics, it's really about the citizens that they don't want to be mistreated by this company."

AstraZeneca "not playing fair"

South Africa warns against vaccine nationalism

But the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, used a separate speech at the same event to hit out at what he branded "vaccine nationalism."

"We need those who have hoarded the vaccines to release the vaccines so that other countries can have them," he said.

"The rich countries of the world went out and acquired large doses of vaccines. ... Some countries even acquired up to four times what their population needs ... to the exclusion of other countries."

Ramaphosa, who currently chairs the African Union, said African countries wanted access to vaccines as quickly as other nations.

South Africa’s COVID-19 outbreak is the worst in Africa, and the continent as a whole is struggling to secure sufficient vaccines to start inoculation programs for its 1.3 billion people.

jf/rt (AFP, Reuters)