The EU has put together tougher controls on vaccine export designed to stop pharmaceutical companies sending vaccine abroad rather than supplying European countries.
New rules stop short of a ban but include clauses to on reciprocity and proportionality to stop vaccines being sent to to countries that restrict their own exports through law or contracts or are further ahead in their vaccine programme.
The move, which goes before EU leaders on Thursday has raised concerns that the UK is being singled out as Europe battles to improve its vaccine coverage.
It comes as 29 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine were inspected in a raid by Italian officials.
In a press conference, European Commission executive vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis said the Commission had adopted the measures ‘with the aim of preserving the security of our supply chains’.
He added that AstraZeneca had only delivered a small portion of its agreed contractual agreements to EU countries.
‘The EU remains the biggest global exporter of vaccines. We are the largest contributor to low and middle income countries in the so-called COVAX facility.
‘You only have to look at the figures: 43 million vaccines to 33 countries since the end of January.’
But he said continuing shortfalls in production were not being distributed fairly across contracting countries.
‘The EU is the only OECD producer that continues to export vaccines to countries that have production capacities of their own.
‘But when these countries do not export to the EU, there is no reciprocity.
‘The EU still faces a very serious epidemiological situation and continues to export significantly to countries whose epidemiological situation is less serious than ours, or whose vaccination roll-out is more advanced than ours.’
While EU leaders stopped short of singling out the UK by name, it is a vaccine-exporter where more than half of adults have now received one dose.
The Guardian reported that while the UK does not have an export ban in legislation, the government signed a contract with AstraZeneca that obliges them to deliver doses produced in Oxford and Staffordshire to Britain first.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said ‘open roads should run in both directions’.
On Wednesday evening, the UK Government said it was still in discussions with the EU about a way forward.
A spokesperson said: ‘We are all facing the same pandemic and the third wave makes cooperation between the EU and UK even more important. We have been discussing what more we can do to ensure a reciprocally beneficial relationship between the UK and EU on Covid-19.
‘Given our interdependencies, we are working on specific steps we can take – in the short-, medium- and long term – to create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all our citizens.
‘In the end, openness and global cooperation of all countries will be key to finally overcome this pandemic and ensure better preparation for meeting future challenges. We will continue our discussions.’
The news comes as over half of the UK’s adult population has now had at least one Covid vaccine dose, and the Government has said it is on course to offer a vaccine to all adults before the end of July.