Boris Johnson to EU: Don’t restrict vaccine exports

LONDON — Boris Johnson said the EU should not impose “restrictions” on vaccine exports, following warnings that controls may need to be imposed on supplies leaving the bloc amid manufacturing problems and shortages.

Responding to the European Commission’s proposal to require companies to provide early notification when they send vaccines to third countries, and suggestions further controls might be imposed, the U.K. prime minister said he had “confidence in our suppliers” — and urged Brussels not to go against a spirit of “multinational cooperation” in combating the pandemic.

“The creation of these vaccines has been a wonderful example of multinational cooperation, and I think that one of the lessons we have to learn, the world has to learn from the pandemic, is the need to cooperate and to make sure that we do things together and we understand how to fight these pandemics together,” Johnson said, in response to a question from POLITICO at a Downing Street press conference on Tuesday evening.

“So I don’t want to see restrictions on the supply of PPE [personal protective equipment] across borders. I don’t want to see restrictions on the supply of drugs across borders. And I don’t want to see restrictions on vaccines or their ingredients across borders. I think that’s pretty commonsensical, and I’m sure would be widely supported across the EU as well.”

Earlier, U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock also insisted that any moves by the EU would not affect U.K. supplies of either the Pfizer or the AstraZeneca vaccine, saying he had spoken to the chief executives of both firms.

“I’m sure that we can work with the EU to ensure that, while transparency is welcome, that no block is put in place,” Hancock told the Chatham House think tank, but warned against “protectionism … in the middle of a pandemic.”

The European Commission’s chief spokesman, Eric Mamer, said Tuesday that the goal in Brussels was not to obstruct exports of coronavirus vaccine but to force vaccine-makers like AstraZeneca to provide a clear accounting of their production levels and delivery plans.

“Let me just emphasize, the word that is important here is transparency,” Mamer said at a the Commission’s daily news conference. “This is not about blocking. This is about knowing what the companies are exporting or will export to markets outside of the European Union.”

Mamer said that the EU was well within its legal rights to impose the new export controls, and noted that it had taken a similar step in regard to personal protective equipment last spring at the outset of the pandemic in Europe.

“It allows public authorities and the public to know what exports are taking place from companies that are producing within the European Union,” he said, adding: “It is important for us to ensure that things are rolled out as we have agreed with the companies.”

At the Downing Street press conference Johnson responded to the news that the U.K. has surpassed 100,000 recorded deaths from the virus. He said he took “full responsibility” for government actions, but added: “We did everything we could to minimize suffering and minimize loss of life in this country as a result of the pandemic.”



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