EU Sets Temporary Export Controls On COVID-19 Vaccines

By Alex Lawson
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Law360 (January 29, 2021, 4:05 PM EST) -- The European Union announced Friday that it will temporarily restrict certain exports of coronavirus vaccines as it looks to improve distribution of the treatment to its own citizens.

As it rolled out the new restrictions, the European Commission said it was "concerned by the lack of transparency" in the distribution plans of several pharmaceutical companies and that individual member states would be empowered to block certain export plans. The restrictions will remain in place until the end of March.

"It is not our intention to restrict exports any more than absolutely necessary, and the union remains fully committed to international solidarity and its international obligations," the commission said in a statement Friday.

The commission likened the move to its restrictions on exports of personal protective equipment at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, stressing that the export authorization scheme is "targeted, proportionate, transparent and temporary."

Like many governments, the EU struck several advance purchase agreements, or APAs, with pharmaceutical companies to buy doses of the vaccine for internal distribution. In order to make sure those APAs can be honored, the EU is now requiring any companies subject to an APA to request export permission from EU member states.

When reviewing those requests, the commission said, member state governments "shall assess whether the volume of exports is not such that it poses a threat to the execution" of the APAs. As part of the approval process, the commission said companies will have to provide export data dating back to October.

"Protecting the health of our citizens remains our utmost priority, and we must put in place the necessary measures to ensure we achieve this," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.

The export restrictions will not apply to shipments within the EU and to many of its neighboring countries, nor to the 92 low- and middle-income countries covered by the global coronavirus vaccine collective COVAX.

Vaccine distribution in the EU has been spotty, with Pfizer saying last week that it would temporarily slow its production while improving capacity at its plant in Belgium. Separately, AstraZeneca reported last week that its spring vaccine delivery would be much smaller than expected due to unforeseen production snags.

Representatives for Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

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