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26 Jan, 2021 15:03

English health chief says any restrictions on EU vaccine exports 'a worry' as Germany backs limiting jab shipments from bloc

English health chief says any restrictions on EU vaccine exports 'a worry' as Germany backs limiting jab shipments from bloc

An NHS boss has said the possibility of Brussels limiting the quantity of vaccines exported by EU-based manufacturers to non-EU countries is a worrying prospect, as the UK frets that its inoculation programme could be "stymied."

Any move by the EU to limit vaccine exports to the UK "would be a worry" and could jeopardise its inoculation programme, the chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, told British lawmakers on Tuesday.

"I think [doctors] and hospitals and all of our partners are doing well to get the vaccinations now underway quickly. So we don't want any of that progress stymied," Stevens added.

Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn backed limiting vaccine exports out of the EU in cases where it would impact roll-out in the bloc. "I can understand that there are production problems but then it must affect everyone in the same way," Spahn told ZDF television on Tuesday.

"This is not about Europe first but about Europe's fair share," he said, adding it made sense to have export limits on vaccines.

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Also on Tuesday, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said EU protectionism was not the right approach and pledged his government's support in helping to smooth access to vaccines.

"I'm sure that we can work with the EU to ensure that, whilst transparency is welcome, that no blockers are put in place," Hancock said, adding that he had spoken to the chief executives of Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

I'm confident of the supply of vaccines into the UK. I'm confident that won't be disrupted. But I would urge all international partners in fact to be collaborative and working closely together, and I think protectionism is not the right approach in the middle of a pandemic.

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The "export transparency mechanism" was proposed on Monday by European health commissioner Stella Kyriakides, who said Covid vaccine producers in the EU "will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries."

Inoculation programmes across the 27-nation bloc have been hampered by a slow start, as well as by Pfizer's announcement that they will be temporarily reducing supply to Europe and AstraZeneca's warning that they won't be able to hit agreed delivery targets.

Compared to its European neighbours, the UK has made good progress in vaccinating people against Covid-19. As of Monday, more than 6.5 million people across the country had been inoculated with their first dose of the two-part vaccine.

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