Canada depends on the European Union for nearly its entire vaccine supply: All of Canada’s Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have come from Europe, though the country received a small shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine from India.
The new rules come after months of escalating tensions between the European Union and AstraZeneca, in a situation that has become toxic for the bloc’s fragile relations with its recently departed member, Britain.
The trouble began in late January, when AstraZeneca told the bloc it would cut its deliveries by more than half in the first quarter of 2021, upending vaccine rollout plans. In response, the European Union put in place an export-authorization process, requiring pharmaceutical companies to seek permission to export vaccines and giving the European Union the powers to block them if they were seen as running counter to a company’s contractual obligations to the bloc.
Since Feb. 1, the European Union blocked only one out of more than 300 exports, a small shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines to Australia, on the grounds that the country was nearly Covid-free while the bloc was struggling with rising infections.
The new rules will introduce more grounds to block exports, the draft documents show. They will encourage blocking shipments to countries that do not export vaccines to the European Union — a clause clearly targeting Britain — or to countries that have “a higher vaccination rate” than the European Union “or where the current epidemiological situation is less serious” than in the bloc, according to the wording seen by The Times.
In recent days, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain has sought to strike a conciliatory tone in a bid to avert an E.U. export ban that would deliver a major blow to his country’s fast-advancing vaccination campaign.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Johnson said he was opposed to blockades, and was “encouraged by some of the things I’ve heard from the continent.” The British news media reported that his government would be prepared to let the bloc have four million AstraZeneca doses produced at an E.U.-based factory.
Benjamin Mueller contributed reporting from London, Sharon LaFraniere from Washington and Ian Austen from Ottawa.