BRUSSELS — The European Union exported 25 million doses of vaccines produced in its territory last month to 31 countries around the world, with Britain and Canada the top destinations, just as the bloc saw its own supply cut drastically by pharmaceutical companies, slowing down vaccination efforts and stoking a major political crisis at home.
The E.U. — whose 27 nations are home to 450 million people — came under criticism last week, when Italy used an export-control mechanism to block a small shipment of vaccines to Australia. The move was criticized as protectionist, and in sharp contrast to the European Union’s mantra of free markets and global solidarity in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
The issue of vaccine production and exports has also created a bitter dispute between the E.U. and recently departed member Britain, amid accusations that the E.U. wants to deprive Britain of vaccine doses out of spite, in part because Britain is doing so much better with its rollout.
The tensions culminated in a diplomatic spat Wednesday, after a top E.U. official accused the United States and Britain of implementing an “export ban” — a charge the British government vehemently denied.
Practically speaking, ban or no ban, Britain is not exporting vaccines authorized for use at home and the country has said that it would be prepared to give excess doses to neighboring Ireland but only after it was done with its vaccination efforts at home.
The United States has also been hoarding doses, in part through a wartime mechanism known as the Defense Production Act which permits the federal government greater control over industrial production. President Biden last week promised each adult American at least one vaccine dose would be offered to them by May.
But information made public for the first time, recorded in detailed internal documents seen by The New York Times, shows that the European Union, far from being protectionist, is in fact a vaccine exporting powerhouse.
Of the 24,746,787 total of vaccines made in E.U. based facilities that were exported between Feb. 1 — when the export mechanism came into force — and March 1, about one-third, more than 8 million doses, went to Britain.
And while the United States kept doses for itself, the E.U. shipped 651,000 vaccines to the United States last month, and made vaccines that immunized its neighbors: the second-largest recipient of E.U.-made vaccines was Canada, receiving more than 3 million doses last month, while in fourth place came Mexico, receiving nearly 2.5 million vaccines produced in the E.U.
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