The German Chancellor admitted the EU “has a problem” with the Anglo-Swedish vaccine producers but supported the Commission President’s decision to ban jabs exports to the UK should it come to that. Mrs Merkel said: “I support Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. We have a problem with AstraZeneca. We will decide responsibly.”
On Monday, Britain demanded the European Union allow the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines it has ordered as tensions over a possible export ban on EU-manufactured shots mounted and Brussels pointed an accusing finger at drugmaker AstraZeneca.
After falling far behind post-Brexit Britain and the United States in rolling out vaccines, EU leaders are due to discuss a possible ban on vaccine exports to Britain at a summit on Thursday.
The bloc’s leaders will be expected to clash on the issue as some have already expressed concerns over Ms von der Leyen’s comments.
While France, Germany and Italy broadly support tighter export curbs on those who do not reciprocate, countries including the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland are more cautious about cutting off the UK.
Irish Prime Minister said the move to ban exports to the UK would be “counterproductive” on Monday.
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.
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Reports have suggested the latest focus of the row is on AstraZeneca vaccines produced in the Halix plant in the Netherlands, with officials arguing they should be kept for the EU rather than allowed to be exported to the UK.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson looked to cool talk of tension between London and Brussels over vaccine supply when asked about it on Monday.
Mr Johnson spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron and the German Chancellor on Sunday, following talks earlier in the week with Ms von der Leyen and the Dutch and Belgian prime ministers Mark Rutte and Alexander De Croo.
“I’m reassured by talking to EU partners over the last few months that they don’t want to see blockades, I think that’s very important,” Mr Johnson told broadcasters.
The Prime Minister is expected to hold further conversations with his EU counterparts ahead of a virtual summit on Thursday where European leaders are due to consider a possible export ban.
Downing Street told reporters it remained “confident” in the UK’s vaccine supplies, and that the Government was “on track” to offer a jab to all those aged over 50 by April 15 and all adults by July.
The use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab in Europe has been hit by fears over blood clots, although the European Medicines Agency concluded it was a “safe and effective” jab.
On Monday, data from a US-led trial showed the vaccine is 79 percent effective at preventing Covid-19 and offers 100 percent protection against severe disease.
The jab, which has been the subject of controversy in Europe over concerns about links to very rare blood clots, is also 100 percent effective at keeping people out of hospital with severe illness, the study found.