The European Union’s trade commissioner said surveillance and export controls would initially last until the end of March.
The European Commission said on Friday it had agreed to a plan to control EU vaccine exports, including to the UK, arguing it had to do so to secure its own supplies.
EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis told a press conference that export surveillance and controls were “time-limited”, initially running until the end of March, and applied to COVID-19 vaccines that the EU had purchased in advance.
The bloc could block the export of a vaccine if it determines that it could undermine the EU’s own supplies.
“This is an insurance policy,” EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told a press conference. The Commission stressed that this was not an export ban.
Donations to the COVID-19 Global Vaccine Access Mechanism (COVAX), designed for poorer countries, will be exempt, as will many of the EU’s neighbors, including Norway, Switzerland and the Balkan countries West and North Africa. However, the UK will not be exempt.
Drug manufacturers will need to apply for an export authorization in the EU country where the vaccine is manufactured. This country will consult the Commission to take a decision within two working days.
Belgium, where a large Pfizer factory is based, had already notified the Commission of an export plan. The factory manufactures vaccines for the UK and Canada.
The measure, likely to take effect on Saturday, has already been the subject of criticism, seen as a repetition of criticized checks of protective equipment such as masks at the start of the pandemic.
The International Chamber of Commerce said the move risked triggering a chain of retaliatory measures from other countries that would erode supply chains for essential vaccines.
The European Union has publicly berated Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca for failing to deliver the vaccines as promised, with a deficit of up to 60% in the first quarter. EU countries also received fewer shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines than expected.
Companies will also need to itemize their vaccine exports over the past three months.