Vaccine producers 'must honour obligations', von der Leyen says amid export threat

26 January 2021, 06:08 | Updated: 26 January 2021, 16:25

Ursula von der Leyen speaks at the World Economic Forum
Ursula von der Leyen speaks at the World Economic Forum. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Vaccine producers “must honour their obligations”, Ursula von der Leyen has declared as the EU threatens to impose tight controls on the export of coronavirus vaccines made in the bloc.

It comes after the EU lashed out at AstraZeneca on Monday over a shortfall of doses for member states.

The bloc accused the pharmaceutical company of failing to guarantee delivery of coronavirus vaccines without valid explanation, and this led to the threat to impose tight export controls within days on Covid-19 vaccines manufactured in the region.

The row continued in Tuesday, with European Commission chief Ms von der Leyen telling the virtual World Economic Forum: "Europe invested billions to help develop the world's first Covid-19 vaccines. And now, the companies must deliver. They must honour their obligations."

The UK government has said it is in "close contact" with suppliers amid the row, as controls on vaccines would affect the Belgium-manufactured Pfizer jab.

European health commissioner Stella Kyriakides accused pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which worked with Oxford University on the vaccine's development, of failing to give a valid explanation for failing to deliver doses to the bloc.

Warning the EU "will take any action required to protect its citizens and rights", she said in a broadcast address that an "export transparency mechanism" will be installed "as soon as possible".

"In the future, all companies producing vaccines against Covid-19 in the EU will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries," she said.

But the UK Government remained confident that vaccine supply, with the AstraZeneca jab largely being made in Oxfordshire and Staffordshire, will ensure it meets its first target.

A spokeswoman said: "We remain in close contact with all of our vaccine suppliers.

"Our vaccine supply and scheduled deliveries will fully support offering the first dose to all four priority groups by February 15."

Earlier on Monday, Ms Kyriakides criticised AstraZeneca's decision to slow supplies of its vaccine as "unacceptable".

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The pharmaceutical company announced on Friday it could not meet agreed supply targets, just weeks after Pfizer also announced supply delays.

An AstraZeneca spokesman said the company was doing everything it could to bring its vaccine to millions of Europeans "as soon as possible".

Meanwhile, on Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that nearly four in five people aged 80 and above have received their first dose of the Covid vaccine.

The health secretary said he was "very proud" to confirm that the UK has given a jab to 78.7 per cent of all its over-80s.

However, he told the Downing Street coronavirus press briefing that supply remains "tight" due to the rate-limiting factor.

The Cabinet minister also said progress towards vaccinating the top four priority groups by 15 February is "on track".

He confirmed that 6.6 million had now received a jab, more than one in nine of the adult population, and, in the last week, 2.5 million got a vaccine, at a rate of more than 250 people per minute.

Mr Hancock told the briefing: "We're on track to offer everyone in the top four priority groups a jab by 15 February."