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More than one billion coronavirus vaccines exported by EU

European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen and Prime Minister Alexander De Croo put a EU flag sticker on a box for exporting. Credit: Benoit Doppagne/Belga

The European Union (EU) has exported more than one billion coronavirus vaccines globally over the past ten months, of which just under one-tenth was sent to low- and middle-income countries.

In the coming months, the EU vouches to continue providing doses to “vulnerable countries” through the COVAX programme, co-led by Gavi, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and CEPI, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Monday.

“We delivered around 87 million doses to low- and middle-income countries through COVAX. We have always shared our vaccines fairly with the rest of the world,” von der Leyen stressed, adding that “in the next months at least 500 million doses to the most vulnerable countries.”

She added that vaccines produced in the EU have been shipped to more than 150 countries on all continents. “From Japan to Turkey, from the UK to New Zealand, from South Africa to Brazil. Very clearly, the European Union is the largest exporter of COVID-19 vaccines,” von der Leyen said.

This is the equivalent of at least every second vaccine produced in Europe being exported. “We have exported as much as we delivered to EU citizens,” she said.

Disparate vaccination coverage rate

More than 75% of all adults living in the EU have been fully vaccinated, as several members states are rolling out booster doses. Meanwhile, most low-income countries are struggling to reach the 10% vaccination coverage rate milestone.

Von der Leyen pledged to increase the number of vaccines being donated to address the persistent challenge of vaccine inequality, however, figures show the EU’s actions “have not yet met its aims.”

Last month, the non-profit organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) criticised the EU for what it says are “empty promises” regarding the equal distribution of coronavirus vaccines globally, adding that it “portrays itself as a champion of vaccine equity, but the gap between those beautiful words and its actions is embarrassingly wide.”

“The EU continues to block initiatives to help other countries produce their own vaccines and therapeutics and has not shared promised vaccine doses on time,” said Christou,” said Dr Christos Christou, president of MSF.

However, the vaccination coverage rate also hugely differs between some member states. For example, in Bulgaria, fewer than 20% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to Reuters’ Covid-19 tracker, while in Belgium, this figure has reached 74%.

Von der Leyen during her statement on Monday said other countries need to step up efforts, adding that she is working closely with leaders from Italy and the United States to “rally G20 leaders at the Rome Summit next week behind this ambitious goal: beating the global pandemic because we knew that we will only beat COVID-19 if we fight it everywhere.”

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