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Amid a rising third wave across the continent, the European Union is proposing emergency legislation to curb exports of COVID-19 vaccines for the next six weeks as part of its effort to boost supply at home, the New York Times reports. The move would slash vaccine exports to countries like the U.K. and the U.S. that are either receiving E.U.–made vaccines but not sending other shots back, or that have vaccinated more of their population than the E.U.
“The E.U. is proud to be the home of vaccine producers who not only deliver to E.U. citizens but export across the globe,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said last week in a statement announcing her intention to impose tighter curbs, adding that whereas over 64 million doses had been distributed across E.U. member states and associated countries by the middle of this month, at least 41 million were exported outside the E.U. “But open roads run in both directions. And this is why we need to ensure that there is reciprocity and proportionality.”
“If the situation does not change, we will have to reflect on how to make exports to vaccine-producing countries dependent on their level of openness,” she said.
The draft legislation, which will be debated at a meeting of E.U. leaders on Thursday and Friday, directs E.U. countries to consider several factors when deciding whether to block vaccine exports, including a nation’s vaccination rate and pandemic situation. The bloc will also demand that countries that received doses from the E.U. allow shots to be sent back. According to the Times, the new legislation is likely to disrupt supply to Britain — by far the biggest benefactor of E.U. exports.
The E.U. announced the move as it is embroiled in a row with drugmaker AstraZeneca, which von der Leyen claims has overpromised and underdelivered on its contract to provide vaccine supplies. (Though some European countries temporarily suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine over concerns about blood clots in some recipients, most nations restarted their inoculation campaigns after the European Medicines Agency last week declared the vaccine “safe and effective.”) While AstraZeneca is the main target for the new rules, the legislation could also affect the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the Times reports.