LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will be able to work with the European Union to ensure there is no disruption to vaccine supplies, Health Minister Matt Hancock said on Tuesday, arguing protectionism was not right during a pandemic.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn earlier said he backed proposals to restrict vaccines leaving the EU, saying Europe should have its “fair share”.
The European Commission later said it had no plans to impose an export ban, explaining its proposal would require firms to register vaccine exports.
“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 at the Chatham House think tank.
He said he had spoken to the chief executives of Pfizer and AstraZeneca, who gave him confidence supplies would not be disrupted, but he still cautioned against any hints of vaccine nationalism.
“I think protectionism is not the right approach in the middle of a pandemic,” he said.
‘SUPPLIES ARE TIGHT’
The EU proposal comes amid heightened sensitivities over supplies, and in the wake of AstraZeneca’s decision to cut its supply to the EU by 60% to 31 million doses for the first quarter of the year, while Pfizer has also altered delivery schedules.
“I’m very confident that Pfizer… will deliver for the EU and will deliver for the UK, as will AstraZeneca,” Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi told Times Radio.
“Vaccine nationalism is the wrong way to go.”
AstraZeneca has a domestic British supply chain to make its vaccine, but Britain’s supplies of the Pfizer vaccine come from a factory in Belgium.
The total projected amount of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine supplied to Britain between January and March is unchanged by a planned upgrade at a production facility.
But Britain has consistently said that supply is limiting the pace of its vaccine rollout, although it expects early wrinkles to be ironed out over time.
“Supplies are tight… they continue to be,” Zahawi told BBC TV. “Any new manufacturing process is going to have challenges, it’s lumpy and bumpy, (then) it gets better, it stabilises and improves going forward.”
Britain is seeking to give initial shots to 15 million of the most at-risk people by mid-February.