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EU vaccine row erupts as Italy’s Draghi accuses jab providers of ‘double selling’ doses

Vaccine row: EU 'blinked first' over UK says Iain Duncan Smith

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The Italian leader told journalists on Friday he believed the EU’s export control mechanism should be used “especially toward companies that do not respect agreements”. Mr Draghi did not mention any name of specific pharmaceutical companies but claimed some vaccine producers were “double selling” doses to more than one country.

He said: “There is the impression that certain companies, and I won’t name names, sold things two, three times.”

The accusation comes as the EU has been engaging in a bitter row with the UK and vaccine providers AstraZeneca.

Tensions with the UK over vaccine exports exacerbated when European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen threaten Britain with an export ban.

On Saturday, The Times reported that the UK is now close to striking a vaccine deal with the EU as soon as this weekend which aims at removing the threat of the bloc cutting off supplies.

Under the agreement the EU will remove its threat to ban the export of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to Britain, it added.

In return, the British government will agree to forgo some long-term supplies of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that had been due to be exported from a factory in Holland run by AstraZeneca’s subcontractor Halix, the newspaper reported.

However, the EU has never threatened a ban on the export of vaccines, but has only said it could block on a case-by-case basis specific vaccine shipments to countries with higher vaccination rates or that do not export vaccines to the EU.

An EU Commission source said on Saturday: “We are only at the start of discussions with the UK. There are no talks over the weekend.”

They added that sending vaccines produced at Halix was not part of the talks.

A second EU source had previously said that the EU has no intention of sharing with Britain the vaccine substance from Halix, which is estimated to have already produced enough for about 15-20 million doses, and can produce the equivalent of 5 million shots per month.

The British government, Pfizer-BioNTech, and AstraZeneca were not immediately available for comment.

The EU’s rebuff follows Britain’s repeated refusal to share with Brussels AstraZeneca doses produced at two factories in the UK.

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On Friday, the European Medicines Agency approved the Halix production site in the Netherlands that makes the AstraZeneca vaccine and a facility in Marburg in Germany producing BioNTech/Pfizer shots.

The EU’s clearing of the vaccine site comes as the union is banking on it boosting deliveries in the second quarter and accelerate the slow pace of inoculations in the bloc.

Europe’s troubled vaccine rollout has led to a quarrel with Britain, which has imported 21 million doses made in the EU, according to an EU official. Britain says it did a better job negotiating with manufacturers and arranging supply chains.

The EU says that Britain should share more, notably to help make up the shortfall in contracted deliveries of AstraZeneca shots.

Brussels and London sought to cool tensions on Wednesday, declaring they were working “to create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all our citizens”.

More than 107,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Italy, the second highest tally in Europe after Britain, with the country still registering hundreds of deaths each day.

Italy has an entrenched anti-vaccination movement and Mr Draghi said people who worked in the health sector would face sanctions if they refused a shot. He said he hoped to receive an AstraZeneca shot next week.

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