Ursula von der Leyen threatens to block 19m AstraZeneca vaccine doses from leaving Europe

21 March 2021, 11:30 | Updated: 21 March 2021, 12:40

Ursula von der Leyen wants to stop vaccine exports from Europe to the UK
Ursula von der Leyen wants to stop vaccine exports from Europe to the UK. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

EU countries could be stopped from sending as many as 19 million coronavirus vaccine doses to the UK under plans being considered by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

She has threatened a block of AstraZeneca exports from Europe to the UK, having previously said the firm has "underproduced and underdelivered."

In a round of interviews to German media this weekend, Ms Von der Leyen said: “We have the possibility to forbid planned exports.

“That is the message to AstraZeneca, ‘You fulfil your contract with Europe before you start delivering to other countries’.”

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Ms von der Leyen has threatened to join forces with the French and German governments to halt the export of more than 19 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab produced on the continent, with Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel already said to be in support of the plans.

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France’s European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune has also appeared to support Ms Von der Leyen's approach, and European Commissioner for financial services Mairead McGuinness today said 'everything is on the table' and the EU's focus is on "protecting our citizens". 

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The plans are set to be discussed at an EU summit this Thursday, where the focus will be on how member states can speed up their struggling vaccination programmes.

Multiple EU member countries blocked use of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to concerns over extremely rare incidents of blood clots, but were forced to U-turn when the jab was declared safe by both the UK and European medicines regulators.

Europe is entering a third wave of the virus with only around 12 per cent of the population of France, Germany and Italy vaccinated, compared to over half of the UK population receiving a first dose of a Covid-19 jab, according to figures released yesterday. The UK delivered a record 711,156 jabs in a 24 hour period.

According to the Telegraph, the government is working on plans to bring more of the UK's vaccine production on shore.

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Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is reported to have held talks with Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, on how to speed up production on UK shores to reduce reliance on foreign imports.

Meanwhile the deputy chair of the UK's vaccine advisory body has warned Europe's approach to inoculation will harm public confidence and called for a "grown up" solution to the crisis.

Professor Anthony Harnden has told LBC he's "saddened" by the way governments stopped and restarted the use of AstraZeneca jab, which is safe.

The situation in Europe has also sparked fresh concern over the UK's roadmap out of lockdown and plans for summer holidays on the continent.

Experts have warned that trips abroad this summer are "extremely unlikely" despite MPs calling for them to be allowed to go ahead in line with the roadmap for economic reasons.