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EU dispute with AstraZeneca over COVID-19 vaccine commitments won’t affect Canada: Trudeau

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Boris Johnson says U.K. confident in vaccine contracts, supply when asked about Astrozeneca-EU dispute' Coronavirus: Boris Johnson says U.K. confident in vaccine contracts, supply when asked about Astrozeneca-EU dispute
WATCH: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson side-stepped commenting on the dispute between COVID-19 vaccine-maker Astrozeneca and the European Union Wednesday, saying he was confident in the U.K.'s contracts and its supply. – Jan 27, 2021

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the President of the European Commission has reassured him any vaccine export controls the European Union enacts won’t impact shipments of Canada’s doses from Europe.

Trudeau said he spoke to EU President Ursula von der Leyen who he says told him transparency measures taken by the EU will not affect Canada’s Pfizer and Moderna vaccine deliveries from Europe.

An official readout of the call said EU President von der Leyen “provided assurances that the proposed European Union vaccine export transparency mechanism is not intended to disrupt exports of vaccines to Canada.”

“The leaders committed to having their officials stay in regular contact on any issues affecting exports,” it read.

The EU has threatened to impose export controls on vaccines produced within its borders, and warned pharmaceutical companies that have developed coronavirus vaccines with EU aid that it must get its shots on schedule. All of Canada’s Pfizer and Moderna vaccines come from Europe.

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Click to play video 'Coronavirus: New threats to Canada’s supply of COVID-19 vaccines' Coronavirus: New threats to Canada’s supply of COVID-19 vaccines
Coronavirus: New threats to Canada’s supply of COVID-19 vaccines – Jan 26, 2021

Canada isn’t getting any deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine made in Europe this week, shipments are set to resume next week.

The news comes as the European Union’s dispute with AstraZeneca intensifies, with the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker denying the EU’s assertion that it had pulled out of talks on vaccine supplies.

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AstraZeneca said in a statement that it still planned to meet with EU officials in Brussels later in the day. The comments came after EU officials said the company had informed the bloc that it wouldn’t take part in a meeting to discuss delayed vaccine commitments — the third such talks in as many days.

“The representative of AstraZeneca had announced this morning, had informed us this morning, that their participation is not confirmed, is not happening,” said Dana Spinant, the EU Commission’s spokeswoman.

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Read more: Trudeau says Canada’s COVID-19 vaccines safe from EU threats to limit exports

The spat between AstraZeneca and the EU has raised concerns about vaccine nationalism, as countries desperate to end the pandemic and return to normalcy jockey for limited supplies of the precious vaccine shots.

The latest disagreement between the two sides came after AstraZeneca rejected the EU’s accusation that the company had failed to honour its commitments to deliver coronavirus vaccines. AstraZeneca said the figures in its contract with the EU were targets that couldn’t be met because of problems in rapidly expanding production capacity.

Chief Executive Pascal Soriot made the comments in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica following days of criticism from EU leaders furious about the news that initial shipments from AstraZeneca would be lower than anticipated.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker said last week that it planned to cut initial deliveries in the EU to 31 million doses from 80 million due to reduced yield in the manufacturing process.

Click to play video 'Trudeau says Canada’s COVID-19 vaccines safe from EU threats to limit exports' Trudeau says Canada’s COVID-19 vaccines safe from EU threats to limit exports
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID-19 vaccines safe from EU threats to limit exports – Jan 26, 2021

“Our contract is not a contractual commitment,” Soriot said. “It’s a best effort. Basically we said we’re going to try our best, but we can’t guarantee we’re going to succeed. In fact, getting there, we are a little bit delayed.”

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AstraZeneca said in a statement that it understands and shares “in the frustration that initial supply volumes of our vaccine delivered to the European Union will be lower than forecast.”

On Monday, the EU threatened to impose tight export controls within days on COVID-19 vaccines made in the bloc.

While AstraZeneca is still under review in Canada, all of Canada’s current vaccine doses from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are manufactured in Europe. Export controls on vaccine could potentially pinch Canada’s deliveries even further.

Read more: EU mulls coronavirus vaccination certificates for upcoming tourism season

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, however, is confident there will be no impact.

Trudeau told reporters Tuesday that he spoke to both drugmakers in recent weeks, both of which assured him that the delivery totals and timelines will be followed through on, regardless of Europe mulling these controls.

He said things are “in good shape.”

The EU, which has 450 million citizens and the economic and political clout of the world’s biggest trading bloc, is lagging badly behind countries like Israel and Britain in rolling out coronavirus vaccine shots for its health care workers and most vulnerable people. That’s despite having over 400,000 confirmed virus deaths since the pandemic began.

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The shortfall of planned deliveries of the AstraZeneca vaccine is coming at the same time as a slowdown in the distribution of Pfizer-BioNTech shots as that company upgrades production facilities at a plant in Belgium.

— With files from Global News’ Emerald Bensadoun