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EUROPEAN UNION

EU warns it could block more vaccine exports

European Commission chief says Italy's decision to block an export to Australia last week was "not a one-off"

EU warns it could block more vaccine exports
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expects supply of coronavirus vaccines to increase in April. (Photo by Francisco Seco/AFP

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen warned on Monday that the bloc could halt further exports of the coronavirus vaccine, after Italy stopped a shipment to Australia.

“That was not a one-off,” the president of the European Commission told business newspaper Wirtschaftswoche.

Italy last week revealed it had blocked the export of 250,700 doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine meant for Australia, blaming the shortage of jabs in virus-hit Europe — and the lack of urgent need in Australia.

Defending Italy’s action, von der Leyen said AstraZeneca had delivered less than 10 percent of the volumes that the bloc had ordered for December to March.

The European Commission has criticised the Anglo-Swedish company for failing to fulfil its delivery schedule to the EU, even as it supplied full doses to Britain.

Under the EU scheme, a company wanting to export outside the bloc needs to apply for permission to the national government, which decides after consulting the commission.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert last week stressed the EU was supplying vaccines to the whole world — unlike countries such as the United States.

“We stand by this European approach, which differs from the American approach when it comes to production, for instance,” Seibert said.

100 million doses vow

As criticism rises within the 27-nation bloc over its stuttering rollout, the commission is battling to secure doses to get the pace of vaccinations back on track.

Von der Leyen said in a separate interview with Stuttgarter Nachrichten newspaper that she expected the bloc to receive 100 million doses every month from April, thanks both to higher delivery volumes and the regulatory approval of more vaccines.

The EU would receive “in the second quarter an average of around 100 million doses a month, in total 300 million by end June”, she said. 

By February 26, the bloc with a population of 446 million people had received 51.5 million doses, according to official EU data.

The bloc has already approved three vaccines — BioNTech/Pfizer, AstraZeneca/Oxford and Moderna — and the European Medicines Agency is due to decide on Thursday on the Johnson & Johnson single-shot jab.

The regulator last week began a rolling review of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

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COVID-19 RULES

Denmark to offer all over-50s autumn Covid-19 vaccine

As many as 2.5 million residents of Denmark, almost half the country’s population, will be offered an new booster vaccination against Covid-19 this autumn.

Denmark to offer all over-50s autumn Covid-19 vaccine

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen presented on Wednesday the national plan for a potential new wave of the coronavirus this autumn and winter.

At a press briefing, Frederiksen said that nursing and care home residents, as well as everyone over the age of 50, would be offered Covid-19 vaccination this autumn.

People who live in care homes and others in vulnerable groups will be offered the vaccine from September 15th, with over-50s invited to be vaccinated from October 1st.

A new round of vaccination is part of a broader strategy to avoid shutting down parts of society due to national Covid-19 outbreaks, as seen in Denmark and the rest of the world in 2020 and 2021.

She said that vaccines were to thank for restrictions in winter 2021-22 being less severe than in the preceding year.

“The most important tool is still the vaccines. They showed their value last winter,” she said.

“But we also know that the protection given by vaccines fall off over time and that health authorities expect a new (Covid-19) wave,” she said.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: Omicron subvariant now dominant in Denmark

The director of the Danish Health Authority, Søren Brostrøm, said at the briefing that the decision to offer vaccination to over-50s was based on a “principle of caution”.

The World Health Authority has recommended offering vaccination to people over 60, Brostrøm said.

Danish residents under the age of 50 will be offered a vaccine if they are vulnerable or in risk groups for serious illness with Covid-19.

The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer will be used in the Danish vaccination programme, as was the case in 2021.

Existing Covid-19 vaccines are known not to protect with high effectiveness against infection with the Omicron variant, but do reduce the severity of illness if it is contracted.

“One of the things we have learned with the new variants Omicron, ed.] is that the vaccines are not particularly good at preventing infection. We’ve learned something here,” Brostrøm said.

But their ability to reduce the severity of disease means that, by vaccinating a large part of the population, Denmark can avoid a “large wave of illness,” he said.

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