As European Internal Market Commissioner, Thierry Breton is overseeing the bloc’s procurement of the various types of vaccine. And he singled out the UK in an appearance on France Info this morning, insisting that Britain “depends practically entirely” on the European Union for its COVID-19 vaccines.
The EU and Britain have been engaged in a war of words over the delivery and rollout of COVID vaccines, with Brussels threatening to impose restrictions – or even an outright ban – on exports of AstraZeneca jabs.
In a public rebuke last month, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the company: “You fulfil your contract with Europe first before you start delivering to other countries.”
And Mr Breton’s interview made it clear the wrangle had not yet been entirely resolved.
He said: “AstraZeneca gave all doses to the UK and only 25 percent of what it was supposed to deliver to us in Europe.
“We are currently investigating the reason. We have some hypotheses. In the contracts, there was nothing about giving them priority.
“If a company signs contracts with two companies, there shouldn’t be priorities. AstraZeneca must explain what happened.
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The bloc has struggled with its vaccine rollout and continues to lag well behind the UK, where 55.08 doses per 100 people have been administered, almost three times higher than the bloc’s rate of 19.09.
However, in a statement issued via his LinkedIn page yesterday, Mr Breton said: “We should be proud of Europe’s industrial capacity: it has not only delivered more than 100 million doses to EU Member States to date, but has also provided vaccines to the rest of the world.
“The capacity is rapidly increasing: I expect the European Union to reach an annual production capacity of more than three billion doses by the end of this year.”
He added: “Vaccine production in Europe has been more than doubling every month.
“In the context of the Advance Purchase Agreements (APA) to procure on behalf of the Member States: 5 million doses were delivered in December, 14 million in January, 28 million in February, almost 60 million in March and we expect more than 100 million per month for the next quarter.
“This production ramp-up shows that Europe is on track industrially.
“Vaccine nationalism makes no sense. No country is self-sufficient. It takes over 300 ingredients to produce a vaccine and supplies come from all over the world.
“In the massive production ramp-up phase we are going through, the supply chain must follow, as any disruption of the supply chain could have dramatic consequences on production capacity.”
Mr Breton said he was “opening a dialogue” with the United States “to avoid any interruption in the production lines, particularly for filters or disposable bags in which the vaccine substance is manufactured”.
In a remark which echoed his comments to France Info, he added: “The same applies of course to the UK.
“Two thirds of the 30 million doses administered to UK citizens were produced in Europe.
“The UK depends on Europe for the second dose.”