The European Commission is considering a ban on vaccine exports from the EU to the UK, in the latest threat to Brexit Britain coming from Brussels. But speaking on Monday, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said the move would be “counterproductive”. He warned: “If we start that, then we are in trouble.”
The Taoiseach said it is “vital” that supply lines are kept open.
He added that any European Union restrictions on vaccine exports would be a “retrograde step” that could undermine the supply of raw materials for vaccine production.
Mr Martin told Ireland’s RTE radio that representatives of vaccine-maker Moderna had expressed concern to him that EU export restrictions on vaccines might impact its supply of raw materials for vaccine production.
Britain on Monday demanded that the European Union allow the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines it has ordered as tensions over a possible ban on EU-manufactured shots mounted, but Brussels said drugmaker AstraZeneca was to blame.
After falling far behind post-Brexit Britain and the United States in rolling out vaccines, the EU’s leaders are due to discuss imposing a ban on vaccine exports to Britain at a summit on Thursday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to speak to the EU’s most powerful leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, in a bid to get the bloc to steer away from bans.
Helen Whately, a junior health minister, told LBC radio: “There will continue to be some robust conversations with the European Union about the importance of no such blockings happening.
“It’s really important that companies are able to fulfil their contractual obligations.”
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An EU official told Reuters on Sunday that the bloc was rebuffing British government calls to ship AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines produced in a factory in the Netherlands.
They said: “The Brits are insisting that the Halix plant in the Netherlands must deliver the drug substance produced there to them. That doesn’t work.”
The Leiden-based plant, run by sub-contractor Halix, is listed as a supplier of vaccines in both the contracts that AstraZeneca has signed with Britain and with the European Union.
The official added: “What is produced in Halix has to go to the EU.”
AstraZeneca has not yet sought approval in the EU for Halix, but the official and a second EU source said the request was on its way. Without regulatory approval, vaccines produced at Halix cannot be used in the EU.
As of March 20, the UK had administered nearly 44 vaccines for every 100 people, whereas the EU had administered nearly 13 shots per 100 people, according to public data compiled by Our World In Data website.