VILNIUS – Lithuania supports steps taken by the European Commission to control exports of vaccines from the European Union (EU), the country’s deputy foreign minister said on Wednesday.
“We constantly call on the European Union and in particular the European Commission to take stronger action to ensure the supply of vaccines. It is very important to make sure that manufacturers comply with contractual obligations. Therefore, we support the measures taken by the Commission, pressure maintained on vaccine manufacturers as well as efforts to encourage building of production capacities,” Arnoldas Pranckevicius told BNS.
Brussels plans to tighten controls on exports of COVID-19 vaccines from the EU in the near time in a move targeted at UK-based AstraZeneca that fails to meet its supply obligations to the bloc.
According to Sandra Gallina, head of the Commission's Health Directorate, AstraZeneca delivered less than a quarter of the 100-million-plus vaccine doses it had pledged to supply in the first three months of this year.
In late January, the EU set up an export control mechanism, under which vaccine manufacturers that have concluded Advance Purchase Agreements with the EU have to notify member state authorities about any plans to export vaccines produced in the EU.
According to EU officials, the updated mechanism will not mean a complete ban on exports but will support what European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called "the principle of reciprocity". It will bolster the Commission's stance in terms of a ban to export to countries with more successful rollouts and those producing vaccines but not exporting them to the EU.
EU leaders also plan to discuss this issue during the summit on Thursday and Friday.
EU countries disagree on whether the export ban should be tightened. Some of them say it's a way to encourage pharmaceutical companies to respect their European delivery schedules. Others are concerned that an export ban could lead to retaliatory action.
ONLY APPROVED VACCINES FOR IMMUNITY CERTIFICATE
According to Pranckevicius, Lithuania also supports the Commission's idea to create a so-called Digital Green Certificate by the beginning of the summer and it would be a proof that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, has received a negative test result or has recovered from COVID-19.
"The stances of many member states have been converging and, overall, neither of the member states has opposed this proposal in principle. It is probably more of the devil that is in the details, it is important to agree on details… And we hope further discussions among member states will be constructive," the deputy minister said.
According to him, Lithuania maintains its position that the Digital Green Certificate should only include vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
"Our position is somewhat harder compared to many other countries… Our position is that the certificate, if used when traveling within the Community, could only include the vaccines licensed by EMA. Our main arguments are safety, predictability and citizens’ health," Pranckevicius said.
Virginijus Sinkevicius, the Lithuanian European commissioner for environment, oceans and fisheries, told BNS earlier the common EU rules would only apply to the vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency.
Vaccines approved at the national level, like the Sputnik V vaccine in Hungary, could also be included into the certificate, but any decision on restrictions on travelers vaccinated with such vaccines should be made by countries individually.
REDISTRIBUTION MECHANISM WILL DEPEND ON DELIVERIES
Pranckevicius says EU member states are only discussing the creation of a possible redistribution mechanism.
"It's hard to say what that mechanism will be. The proposal itself is new and fresh, and leaders have not had a chance to discuss it, and they will do that at the end of this week. (..) I have not heard any negative reactions so far," the vice minister said.
He stressed, however, a redistribution mechanism should be based on countries' voluntary determination, adding that since vaccine deliveries across Europe are not stable right now, "there are not many countries able to do that".
In early March, the Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian health ministers have called on the European Commission to set up a transparent mechanism for redistributing coronavirus vaccines among EU member states.
They called on the EC set up a mechanism for the extraordinary circumstances that might justify exceptions to the pro rata distribution and temporarily advance the delivery to the member states in most urgent need.
To better deal with urgent cases, decisions should be based on clear and transparent criteria, such as availability of vaccines, vaccination rate, incident rate, mortality rate and the spread of new variants, they said.
Pranckevicius says Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Latvia and Slovenia are facing the biggest problems. Their requests for assistance will also be considered during the upcming Eu summit.
Lithuania is now using three EMA-approved coronavirus vaccines – Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca. According to the latest data, 288,749 people have already received their first coronavirus vaccine shots so far and 131,540 have been given the second jab.