The decision of the EU to carry out export controls for coronavirus vaccines is “extremely problematic” according to experts. They warned that if other countries followed suit, this could lead to a collapse in global supply.

“There is a real risk that the EU making this decision could set off a cascade in other countries to introduce export bans (vaccines),” said Suerie Moon, co-director of the Graduate Institute of the Global Health Center in Geneva, on Monday opposite CNBC.

“There is a real risk that the cross-border movement of vaccines will collapse, just as it did a year ago when countries including the EU blocked exports of food and even masks and other essential medical supplies. This is catastrophic internationally.”

In the worst case, she said, “The greatest risk is that this will be an example that many other countries will follow and that will lead to a collapse in the global vaccine supply.”

Export controls

The people lining up outside the Belgrade Fair to receive the China-made Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine became a vaccination center on January 25, 2021.

ANDREJ ISAKOVIC | AFP | Getty Images

While insisting that the measure is not an “export ban”, Member States can restrict exports of block-made coronavirus vaccines if they believe the vaccine maker has failed to respect existing contracts with the EU.

It contains exceptions for a large number of countries outside the EU but within Europe, such as Albania and Serbia, a number of countries in North Africa and one of the 92 low and middle income countries that fall under the COVAX initiative.

Moon said: “The EU has certainly put in some pressure valves to allow exports to certain countries in the world, but there are still many countries that rely heavily on EU production and are seriously injured.” . “

The bloc made the announcement amid heightened concerns and ugly public disputes with vaccine manufacturers over insufficient supplies to the bloc.

Vaccine maker Pfizer announced that it would temporarily cut production of its shot, developed with German biotechnology BioNTech, as it modernized manufacturing facilities in Belgium, while AstraZeneca dealt a blow to the EU by announcing it would deliver far fewer vaccine doses than that originally expected in the first quarter, citing problems in the Dutch and Belgian plants.

The delays put pressure on the European Commission, which has already been criticized for its lack of speed in ordering and approving vaccines and introducing vaccines.

The move to introduce export controls caused a stir, especially in the UK after a week of simmering tensions over shipments of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is also manufactured at two UK sites.

The EU had indicated that supplies were to be diverted from the UK plants to Europe, which sparked a dispute with the drug manufacturer and the UK government. It escalated to the point where the EU said it would override part of the Brexit deal to prevent EU-made vaccines from potentially entering the UK via Northern Ireland.

This decision was reversed shortly after a public outcry, including from the World Health Organization, warning of the dangers of “vaccine nationalism”. The EU assured the UK that it would receive vaccines from the block.

Pandora’s box

Simon J. Evenett, professor of international trade and economic development at the University of St. Gallen, said on Monday that the EU’s move was tantamount to opening the “Pandora’s box” and could have unforeseen consequences.

He said the restrictions could cause concern to foreign governments for a number of reasons, including the fact that the “standard for authorizing the export of Covid-19 vaccines is unclear” and that these decisions “can be arbitrary”. He also pointed out that it shouldn’t expire on March 31, 2021 as promised.

Evenett warned that the move “could spread down the supply chain for Covid-19 vaccines to include key ingredients needed to manufacture and distribute the vaccines,” and even to export restrictions on other essential goods such as food, energy and Energy could lead to other drugs.

CSL staff will be working in the laboratory on November 08, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia, where they will begin manufacturing the AstraZeneca-Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Darrian Traynor | Getty Images

Such scenarios “would exacerbate the damage being done to both the EU public health systems and its multinationals,” he said.

“A disruption in vaccine supply chains will slow vaccine rates in the EU and elsewhere, leading to unnecessary deaths and an even slower economic recovery. If the European Commission realizes that it is going to open Pandora’s box, it may find an elegant way to pull it back of the export control regime for the Covid-19 regime, “he said.

“This would allow the EU to regain its reputation as a defender of multilateralism and the rules-based global trading system. This morning that reputation is in tatters.”