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Vaccine Wars: EU Member States Given Power to Block Certain Vaccine Exports

When the volume of vaccine exports “poses a threat to the execution of Union Advance Purchase Agreements concluded with vaccines manufacturers” (1), EU member states now have the power to block those exports – thanks to a new EU regulation aiming to provide “greater clarity” on vaccine production (2).

One major reason for the regulation? The EU’s public spat with AstraZeneca, which informed the EU that it would be supplying considerably fewer doses of the vaccine than previously agreed (3). 

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot blamed “yield issues” at one of its manufacturing sites in Europe. “The yield varies from one to three, by the factor of three,” he said in an interview with la Republica (4). Soriot also cited a “best effort” clause in the contract. “Basically we said we’re going to try our best, but we can’t guarantee we’re going to succeed.” 

The EU contended that AstraZeneca was contractually obliged to meet the scheduled doses, and to use AZ’s UK manufacturing sites if necessary to do so – the UK government signed a separate deal with the company, three months prior to the EU agreement. 

Both parties then agreed to publish the contract online, with certain parts redacted (5) (though some of the redacted information was accidentally made visible in the initial PDF uploaded by the EU). The contract does say that AZ must use “Best Reasonable Efforts” to manufacture the doses, but both parties disagreed on what that means. 

The row culminated in the publication of the Export Authorisation Regulation. But controversially, the initial draft regulation included plans to invoke Article 16 of the Irish Protocol to prevent vaccines reaching the UK via Northern Ireland – which has a special status as part of the EU’s customs territory and single market for goods to prevent border checks on the island of Ireland. The protocol is considered an emergency measure, only to be used in the case of serious "economic, societal or environmental difficulties.” 

The Commission later withdrew its intention to invoke Article 16, calling it a “mistake” (6), and published a revised regulation without reference to the article (1). 

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  1. EUR-Lex (2021). Available at:
  2. European Commission (2021). Available at: 
  3. European Commission (2021). Available at: 
  4. la Repubblica (2021). Available at: 
  5. European Commission (2021). Available at: 
  6. George von Harrach (2021). Available at: 
About the Author
James Strachan

Over the course of my Biomedical Sciences degree it dawned on me that my goal of becoming a scientist didn’t quite mesh with my lack of affinity for lab work. Thinking on my decision to pursue biology rather than English at age 15 – despite an aptitude for the latter – I realized that science writing was a way to combine what I loved with what I was good at.

From there I set out to gather as much freelancing experience as I could, spending 2 years developing scientific content for International Innovation, before completing an MSc in Science Communication. After gaining invaluable experience in supporting the communications efforts of CERN and IN-PART, I joined Texere – where I am focused on producing consistently engaging, cutting-edge and innovative content for our specialist audiences around the world.

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