WHO airs concerns about EU measure to curb vaccine exports

GENEVA — World Health Organization officials warned Friday that new European Union moves to tighten rules on the export of COVID-19 shots were “not helpful,” and said restrictions mustn’t get in the way of beating the disease worldwide.

Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and other WHO officials warned of supply-chain disruptions that could result and ripple through the world — and potentially stalling the fight against the pandemic.

The EU’s executive Commission on Friday introduced measures to tighten rules on exports of shots produced in its 27-member countries. The measures will be used until the end of March to control shipments outside the bloc.

The idea is to ensure EU nations get shots they bought from vaccine makers at a time when supplies are limited and production hiccups have emerged.

Speaking at a World Economic Forum event alongside Tedros and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, German Health Minister Jens Spahn said: “It’s important for us that Europe is safe, that the world is safe.”

“But if we want to have acceptance for this, of course we also need to vaccinate … our own people. So it’s about the right balance.”

Bourla said seeking an actual ban on exports — and he emphasized that wasn’t what the EU wasn’t doing — “could become a lose-lose situation rather than a win for Europe situation.”

Tedros acknowledged pressures faced by national politicians but said hoarding vaccine could lead to a “catastrophic moral failure,” a simmering pandemic and a slow economic recovery around the world.

“For now, what WHO is saying is if countries can vaccinate their health workers, and elderly, and people with underlying health conditions, it’s enough,” he told an earlier WHO news conference.

Dr. Mariangela Simao, the WHO’s assistant director-general for access to medicines and health products, warned of the effect of restrictions like those by the EU on the global supply chain.

“It’s not helpful to have any country at this stage put in export bans or barriers that will not allow for the free movement of the necessary ingredients that will make vaccines, diagnostics and other medicine available to all the world,” she said.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, a special adviser to Tedros, said such measures must not “get in the way of trying to beat this disease on a global scale.”

“What concerns us the most in a situation like this is that ultimately it’s the most vulnerable countries … that suffer the most in any situation where we end up with trade restrictions or barriers,” he said.

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