The European Union has backtracked on its decision to trigger a Brexit deal clause that would see restrictions being imposed on the movement of vaccines to Northern Ireland. This change has come after major opposition from both the UK and Ireland, which were apprehensive about what the consequences of such a decision could be.
The EU’s initial decision
The European Union announced the introduction of controls on exported vaccines in light of delays in its vaccine scheme. This comes after a public dispute between the EU and the AstraZeneca vaccine manufacturers. The latter have declared that they would deliver 60% less than the initial number of doses agreed with the EU in the first part of 2021. AstraZeneca blamed this shortfall on manufacturing problems at one of their plants in Belgium and claimed that, since the UK singed a contract with them first, the EU will only receive the doses after the UK is covered.
The contract between AstraZeneca and the EU
Allegations from both sides have prompted the publication of the contract signed by the EU with AstraZeneca, although certain parts have been redacted. Although debates about which side is in the right continue, the publication of the contract has revealed certain aspects that dispel some of the parties’ allegations. One important factor that came to light is the EU’s argument that the contract they signed with AstraZeneca was not limited to vaccines produced by the Belgium plant that experienced delays, meaning that the EU could still receive vaccine doses from other AstraZeneca plants based in the UK. Moreover, the EU has paid AstraZeneca in advance to have the vaccine delivered whenever it got the final approval (which it did on the 29th of January 2021). Another crucial aspect of the contract is that, when it was signed in August, AstraZeneca did not have any other contractual obligations, which means that the delivery of vaccines to the EU should not be hindered by the production of enough vaccine doses for the UK. However, this does not mean that the EU had won the contractual dispute. There are passages that have been left to interpretation, such as the fact that the agreement is based on AstraZeneca’s ‘best efforts’ at producing the necessary doses of vaccine. Thus, in this case, the interpretation of the contract is highly subjective: if AstraZeneca considers that it has done its best to honor the contract, then that can lend it a certain level of protection in the face of EU accusations.
The EU U-turn
In view of the EU shortfall in vaccines, the decision to impose restrictions on the exports outside of the bloc came as a way of ensuring transparency. The EU entertained the possibility that the UK has access to vaccines coming from the EU to the Republic of Ireland, through Northern Ireland. Therefore, the European Commission intended to control exports towards Northern Ireland, decision which was vehemently opposed by Ireland and the UK. The U-turn in EU’s decision came after the threat of a ‘hard border’ between the Northern and Southern parts of the island of Ireland became apparent.
It is important that world leaders do not enter a vaccination race to prove whose methods are better. The very nature of the virus these vaccines are trying to eliminate is more than enough proof that cooperation is much more important than petty political interests. A concerted effort among countries will make the pandemic end faster than a competition whose goal is that of proving political superiority. In the end, the only way the world can return to normalcy is if everybody gets vaccinated. It is not about what country vaccinates all of its citizens first, but about ensuring a coordinated vaccination everywhere at the same time.
Written by Diana Jalea