The European Commission is calling for tougher controls on COVID-19 vaccine exports to Britain and other areas with much higher vaccination rates.
President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen said “open roads should run in both directions”, adding: “The EU has an excellent portfolio of different vaccines and we have secured more than enough doses for the entire population. But we have to ensure timely and sufficient vaccine deliveries to EU citizens. Every day counts.”
The proposals recommend more transparency and reciprocity but do not go as far as including a ban on exports to the UK.
The plans state that a country’s vaccination rates and access to vaccines will be assessed before a shipment is made.
EC vice president Valdis Dombrovskis said the continent still faces a “very serious epidemiological situation” but is exporting to countries with fewer coronavirus cases and higher vaccination rates.
The EU said 10 million doses have been exported from the bloc to the UK while zero have returned in the other direction, as it introduced an export authorisation mechanism based on “proportionality”.
Mr Dombrovskis said: “Our export authorisation mechanism is not addressed at any specific country.
“But it’s clear that in the EU we also need to ensure vaccination of our own population.”
The EU denied its export authorisation mechanism was an “export ban”.
European Commission health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “What we are presenting here today is not an export ban, I think that this needs to be very clear.”
A UK government spokesperson said: “We are all fighting the same pandemic – vaccines are an international operation; they are produced by collaboration by great scientists around the world. And we will continue to work with our European partners to deliver the vaccine rollout.
“We remain confident in our supplies and are on track to offer first doses to all over 50s by April 15th and all adults by the end of July. Our plan to cautiously reopen society via our roadmap also remains unchanged.”
The changes come as it emerged Boris Johnson told Tory MPs “capitalism” and “greed” gave Britain its success in vaccinating its population.
The comments, reported by The Sun newspaper, were made by the prime minister during a Zoom meeting and could inflame a row with the European Union.
Mr Johnson then tried to row back and said “actually I regret saying it” and asked lawmakers repeatedly to “forget I said that”.
More than 28 million people in the UK have now received the first dose of the vaccine.
Meanwhile, some 29 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines were found at a plant in Italy over the weekend, a French official has said.
Checks are still needed to see if they were UK-bound but an official at the French presidency said the question of blocking the shipment should be on the table.
A German government source said: “Maybe there is an opportunity now to boost deliveries (to the EU) significantly, which is what the CEO (of AstraZeneca) had promised.”
AstraZeneca has been at the heart of a cross-Channel row after Ms von der Leyen threatened to halt vaccine exports amid pressure over the pace of the bloc’s rollout.
But Mr Johnson told a Downing Street press conference on Tuesday: “We’ll continue to work with European partners to deliver the vaccine rollout.
“All I can say is we in this country don’t believe in blockades of any kind of vaccines or vaccine materials.
“It’s not something that this country would dream of engaging in and I’m encouraged in some of the things I’ve heard from the continent in the same sense.”
Diplomatic efforts have tried to ward off a possible ban on vaccine exports.
Across the EU, just over 10% of adults have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine but in the UK the figure is over 53%.
Downing Street did not deny reports that AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured at the Halix facility in the Netherlands could be shared with the EU to prevent an export ban.