Covid-19 vaccine exports and the UK

23 March 2021
What was claimed

The EU has exported 41.6 million vaccines so far, 10 million of which were to the UK.

Our verdict

This is how many vaccines manufacturers in EU member states have exported.

What was claimed

The UK and US have exported no vaccines.

Our verdict

This seemed to be the case when the claim was made, though it has since been reported that the UK sent over 700,000 doses to Australia in February/March though this has not been confirmed. The US also sent 2.7 million doses to Mexico in late March.

A viral tweet claims that the EU has exported 41.6 million vaccines, mostly to the UK, while the US and UK have exported none. A screenshot of the tweet has also been spreading on Facebook

This 41.6 million figure and the graph in the image come from Bloomberg. The outlet said these figures were correct as of 15 March and come from “an EU document seen by Bloomberg” which was shared with EU ambassadors. The tweet and Facebook post were published shortly after this.

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said on 17 March that over the previous six weeks, 41 million doses had been exported to 33 countries.

This is how many vaccines have been exported from vaccine manufacturers in EU states, rather than by the EU as an organisation. 

By comparison, it’s unclear how many Covid-19 vaccines have been exported from the UK to other countries. 

In April, after we first published this article, Australian publications The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald reported that 717,000 vaccine doses manufactured in the UK were sent to Australia in late February and March. This has not been confirmed by the UK government. 

Downing Street told the Guardian: “The details of any commercial vaccine supply agreements between national governments and AstraZeneca are commercially sensitive and a matter for those two parties.” AstraZeneca declined to comment on the reports.

Of the vaccines approved for use in the UK, only the AstraZeneca vaccine is made here. The UK government and AstraZeneca have repeatedly declined to say how many Covid-19 vaccines the UK has exported. Some ingredients for the Pfizer vaccine are reportedly exported from the UK to Pfizer factories in EU member states. 

As for the US, the White House said on 18 March that although not yet finalised, it was planning to send four million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico and Canada. Again since this article was first published, it’s been reported that in March, the US sent 2.7 million doses to Mexico.

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Vaccine nationalism?

The reason why so many more vaccines have left EU member states than the UK has been the source of much contention. 

European Council President, Charles Michel, claimed in March that the United Kingdom and the United States had imposed an “outright ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components produced on their territory.”

Responding to Mr Michel’s comments, Boris Johnson told the Commons the next day: “I...wish to correct the suggestion from the European Council President that the UK has blocked vaccine exports. Let me be clear: we have not blocked the export of a single covid-19 vaccine or vaccine components.” 

He also mentioned that the UK had pledged £548 million to COVAX, a global initiative to get Covid-19 vaccines to poorer countries.

On the same day, President Michel told POLITICO: “They said that they didn’t decide a ban in the U.K. We know, and I know because I am a politician, that there are different ways to impose a ban or to impose restrictions on vaccines and/or on medicines, because on medicines there is a clear ban. 

“But the question is the following: how many doses did they export? This is a very simple question, and since yesterday I haven’t heard the answer to this very simple question.”

There is a list of medicinal products related to the treatment of Covid-19 which the UK government has banned from export. This list does not include any Covid-19 vaccines and as we’ve said the government has denied any such ban. 

There seems to be a number of reasons why the UK has exported a lower number of vaccines, namely because of the specifics of the contracts it signed with producers and also reportedly, how quickly the UK began negotiating with firms like AstraZeneca for vaccine fulfillment. 

As for the EU, it has once acted to block Covid-19 vaccine exports.

From 30 January, the EU introduced a rule meaning vaccine manufacturers who have agreed to deliver a certain number of vaccines to EU countries have to get any other proposed exports (going outside of the EU) authorised.

On 17 March, Mrs von der Leyen said 314 requests for export had been requested and only one had been refused. Italy used these guidelines when it blocked a shipment of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia.

Update 20 May 2021

We updated this article to include new information that emerged in April, that a number of vaccines were sent to Australia from the UK.

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