EU export controls on vaccines won’t affect Canada’s shipments, officials say

Click to play video: 'What delays, export limits from vaccine-producing countries mean for Canada'
What delays, export limits from vaccine-producing countries mean for Canada
WATCH ABOVE: India and the European Union, two major suppliers of COVID-19 vaccines to Canada, are moving to restrict exports of highly anticipated doses. Abigail Bimman explains how, as signs of vaccine nationalism raise concerns in Canada. – Mar 24, 2021

Canada will not be affected by the European Union’s plan to tighten controls on exports of coronavirus vaccines, officials confirmed Wednesday.

A spokesperson for International Trade Minister Mary Ng told Global News that counterparts in Europe “have assured her that these measures will not affect vaccine shipments to Canada.”

“Our government has been in constant contact with our counterparts in the EU and its member states, at all levels of government,” spokesperson Youmy Han said in an email.

“We will continue to work with the EU and its member states, as we have done throughout the pandemic, to ensure that our essential health and medical supply chains remain open and resilient.”

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Click to play video: 'EU sharpens COVID-19 vaccine export rules as 3rd wave of infections rises'
EU sharpens COVID-19 vaccine export rules as 3rd wave of infections rises

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also spoke with the President of the EU, Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday, his office confirmed.

According to the official readout, during the call, Trudeau and von der Leyen “agreed on the importance of rolling out safe and effective vaccines as quickly as possible, including with respect to continued close Canada-EU cooperation.”

The readout said the two leaders “emphasized their support for international response efforts to the pandemic,” including supporting more vulnerable countries.

The EU unveiled legislation Wednesday that includes new rules that will make it harder for pharmaceutical companies producing COVID-19 vaccines in the 27-nation bloc to export them.

The rules will give the EU broad powers to curb those exports for the next six weeks. It’s seen as the latest move by the EU to ramp up its sluggish — and highly criticized — vaccination effort. The EU’s slow pace is quickly coming up against a third wave of the virus, which is already putting pressure on France and other parts of Europe.

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“This is not an export ban,” an EU Commission spokesperson told Global News in an email.

“It is about making sure that Europe gets its due share of vaccines and inviting other countries to open up for exports.”

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Trudeau questioned on EU export controls over vaccine production'
Coronavirus: Trudeau questioned on EU export controls over vaccine production

While Canada has similarly lagged in its vaccination campaign, federal officials insist the EU’s latest attempt to make up for delays won’t be lobbed in Canada’s direction.

“We have been assured we will receive our supplies, but we continue to remain in touch with our European partners,” Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller, who is handling the vaccine rollout among Canada’s Indigenous communities, said Wednesday in French.

“That’s why our vaccine portfolio involves different sources, and that’s what we’ve been doing from the very beginning.”

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EU Commission sources tell Global News that vaccine exports from the EU to Canada will still be subject to an authorization request — a measure that was implemented back in January.

At the time, those controls raised concerns that Canada’s advance purchase agreements may not be honoured, which could threaten its vaccine supply. Canada is not on a list of countries exempted from those authorization controls.

Under the strengthened rules, introduced today, those authorizations will only be granted “where they do not pose a threat to the security of supply of vaccines and their components in the Union, while also considering reciprocity and proportionality,” EU Commission sources said.

Canada’s vaccine drive shifted into high gear this week as deliveries from Pfizer and Moderna grew significantly.

Nearly 1.2 million doses of Pfizer’s shot are expected this week, alongside two separate shipments by Moderna for a total of 846,000 doses. The first of the two shipments from Moderna arrived Wednesday in Toronto.

It’s a dramatic reversal from earlier in the year when production delays in Europe caused the pharmaceutical giants to pause a number of international shipments.

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Pfizer and Moderna operations in Europe are supplying Canada with the bulk of its vaccines.

Click to play video: 'EU agency: Oxford-AstraZeneca shot is ‘safe and effective’'
EU agency: Oxford-AstraZeneca shot is ‘safe and effective’

Canada found itself in the crosshairs of vaccine export threats from the EU back in February. At that time, any delays to Canada’s shipments were due to issues at the manufacturing level, not because of measures by the EU.

The EU’s hardened stance is expected to be a particular blow to Britain, whose speedy vaccination rollout has been met with envy around the world.

The EU Commission has said it would proceed with its new controls on a case-by-case basis, but much of the focus has centred on the U.K. and AstraZeneca, which has two vaccine factories in the EU.

The EU has been feuding with AstraZeneca for months in a dispute over exactly how many vaccine doses would be delivered by certain dates.

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has sought to ease the tensions over vaccines, speaking by phone in the past few days to European leaders.

Still, the EU has been insisting that other AstraZeneca plants in Britain should also be considered part of the EU vaccine deliveries.

In an interview with Global News, Scott Rosenstein, special advisor for global health at the Eurasia Group said this is an “escalating issue.”

“I think whenever you’re manufacturing your vaccines domestically, there’s going to be a lot of pressure to use those vaccines for the domestic population,” he said. “That’s what’s happening, and it’s escalating.”

He said there are “lots of countries waiting for vaccines.”

“And that list is only going to go up,” he said. “There’s going to be increasing tension, and there is the likelihood that there’ll be more domestic pressure to shore up these domestic supplies sooner than later and I think that’s the direction this is going.”

— With files from Reuters, The Associated Press and Global News reporters Abigail Bimman and Hannah Jackson

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