EU set to extend Covid-19 vaccine ban as showdown with Britain looms

The European Commission will today extend EU powers to potentially block Covid-19 vaccine exports to Britain and other areas with much higher vaccination rates, and to cover instances of companies backloading contracted supplies, EU officials said.

The regulation is aimed at making vaccine trade reciprocal and proportional so that other vaccine-making countries sell to Europe and the EU does not export much more than it imports, one EU official said.

With no numerical targets, the change is unlikely to trigger mass export bans of EU-made vaccines, the official with insight into the announcement said.

“I just really, really don’t see that happening because we have our international obligations and we want to keep supply chains going and the global system moving and flowing,” the official said.

The regulation will be the basis for the EU’s 27 governments to decide whether to block vaccine exports or not.

“In practice, all this is, is a piece of paper that says please take this stuff into consideration when you’re looking at approving export authorisations,” the official said.

The move, which EU officials said could hit AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, are designed to avoid even limited delivery shortfalls to a region whose inoculation programme has been beset by delays and supply issues.

Shipments abroad could also be withheld if vaccine-producing countries, such as Britain and the United States, disallow exports to the EU, officials said, confirming comments by commission head Ursula von der Leyen last week.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain did not believe in imposing vaccine blockades. “I’m encouraged by some of the things I’ve heard from the continent in the same sense,” he told a news briefing.

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