The EU Commission President announced in September that the bloc would be gifting an extra 200 million doses of Covid vaccines to developing countries by the middle of next year. But so far, the EU is still lagging behind its 250 million target for 2021, with just 56 million doses donated.
Senior officials have warned failing to deliver on its promises could cost the EU its geopolitical status against China and cause the spread of new deadly variants.
Already in July, EU Commissioner Josep Borrell warned that “insufficient” vaccine donations to Africa and Latin America could see the bloc losing influence to China.
He said: “Who’s the big vaccine supplier to Africa? China. Who’s the big vaccine supplier to Latin America? China.”
Jutta Urpilainen, the European Commissioner for International Partnerships, and Tomas Tobé, the chair of the European Parliament’s Development Committee also warned: “The EU and its member states must now do more.
“Given that we have already secured sufficient doses to cover the full population of Europe, including a third-dose COVID-19 booster shot, we can and should step up donations of vaccines to our most vulnerable partners.”
Udo Bullmann, a German Social Democrat and member of the European Parliament’s Development Committee, warned further failures could “backfire” on the EU.
He said: “The EU and member states urgently need to live up to their international commitments.
“[Europe] will regret very much if others take its place and offer themselves as partners.”
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They make “a quick response to international requests for help almost impossible,” Mr Steffen added.
The letter is the strongest sign yet of the tensions between governments and drugmakers over donations. The EU and rich countries whose most vulnerable citizens have largely already been vaccinated are under heavy pressure from the World Health Organisation to help deliver more doses to poorer nations, many of which have inoculated only a fraction of their populations.
“With vaccine surpluses in many member states increasing at present, we will soon be facing a situation of global allocation emergency,” Steffen wrote. “Some countries could be forced to waste large volumes of valuable vaccines urgently needed in other parts of the world.”
Obstacles include minimum sales prices, onerous compensation payments required of the recipient countries and restrictions on distributing to international organisations, he said.
Changes in expected delivery volumes and expiration dates of vaccine doses also make planning more difficult, he added.
Mr Steffen said AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson could together only deliver up to 50 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccines this year, meaning Germany would also have to donate Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna shots that are the mainstays of its vaccination drive.
In response, Johnson & Johnson said it would help countries with surplus doses to donate them to other countries, especially using the international COVAX facility, as long as the countries meet safety, legal, regulatory and logistical requirements.
The other manufacturers could not be immediately reached for comment.
EU countries have mostly promised to donate AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
Many have restricted the use of these vaccines due to very rare cases of blood clotting.