EU to urge US to allow export of millions of doses of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Europe, as Brussels struggles to fill supply shortages that have hampered its inoculation campaign.
The European Commission plans to raise the issue in upcoming transatlantic talks aimed at strengthening collaboration in the fight against Covid-19, EU officials said.
The EU also wants Washington to guarantee the free movement of shipments of essential vaccine ingredients needed for European production, including for revolutionary mRNA vaccines.
The European push to access US production of the AstraZeneca jab comes as the company struggles to meet EU delivery targets for the first quarter of 2021 already reduced due to production issues in the block.
AstraZeneca has also announced its intention to deliver half of its expected second quarter supply to the EU elsewhere in the world.
The European Commission told the Financial Times: “We are confident that we can work with the United States to ensure that vaccines produced or bottled in the United States to meet vaccine producers’ contractual obligations with the EU will be fully honored. “
The EU move comes after it emerged this week that Italy and the Commission had blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca jabs to Australia. This has fueled global tensions and fears of vaccine hoarding.
The EU is urgently trying to stimulate a vaccine deployment which followed those of the United States and the United Kingdom.
AstraZeneca declined to comment on EU efforts to gain access to its US production.
Joe Biden, US President, and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, discussed pandemic cooperation on Friday. The US and the EU are both major producers of vaccines and have “a great interest” in working together for the smooth functioning of global supply chains, the commission said after the call.
Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for Internal Market, has now been tasked with working with Jeffrey Zients, US Covid-19 Response Coordinator, on vaccine supply chain issues. EU officials hope the more cooperative transatlantic relationship seen since Biden took office will help ease the effort.
AstraZeneca insists it remains on track to meet its target of delivering 40 million doses to the EU by the end of the first quarter – a number revised down from an initial plan to ship at least 100 million doses by the end of March.
The company also said it will need to source 90 million doses to the EU in the second quarter from outside the bloc, but did not say where they would come from.
The White House has announced plans to use US-made vaccine doses first to meet domestic demand, in accordance with an executive order signed by former President Donald Trump in December.
While Washington has an order for 300m doses of the AstraZeneca jab, the situation is complicated as it has not yet been cleared by US regulators.
A White House official said, “The president’s first priority is to make vaccines available to every American. The US and the EU are committed to deepening cooperation in the response to the pandemic, including strengthening public health capacity and information sharing. We know that to overcome this pandemic and shift the focus to economic recovery, we must work with our allies and partners. “
The EU also wants to ensure that US rules do not prevent shipments of raw materials needed to manufacture vaccines in Europe.
One of the areas of concern is the EU’s dependence on the US for the supply of lipid nanoparticles, which are essential for new mRNA vaccines made by companies such as BioNTech / Pfizer and Moderna.
A second White House official said: “The US and the EU depend on each other for key components of the manufacturing process, and cooperation will remain essential.”
Additional reporting by Hannah Kuchler in New York