Vaccine Passports Could Unlock World Travel and Cries of Discrimination

LONDON — For Aruba, a Caribbean idyll that has languished since the pandemic drove away its tourists, the concept of a “vaccine passport” is not just intriguing. It is a “lifeline,” said the prime minister, Evelyn Wever-Croes.

Aruba is already experimenting with a digital certificate that allows visitors from the United States who tested negative for the coronavirus to breeze through the airport and hit the beach without delay. Soon, it may be able to fast-track those who arrive with digital confirmation that they have been vaccinated.

“People don’t want to stand in line, especially with social distancing,” Ms. Wever-Croes said in an interview this week. “We need to be ready in order to make it hassle-free and seamless for the travelers.”

Vaccine passports are increasingly viewed as the key to unlocking the world after a year of pandemic-induced lockdowns — a few bytes of personal health data, encoded on a chip, that could put an end to suffocating restrictions and restore the freewheeling travel that is a hallmark of the age of globalization. From Britain to Israel, these passports are taking shape or already in use.

But they are also stirring complicated political and ethical debates about discrimination, inequality, privacy and fraud. And at a practical level, making them work seamlessly around the globe will be a formidable technical challenge.

The debate may play out differently in tourism- or trade-dependent outposts like Aruba and Singapore, which view passports primarily as a tool to reopen borders, than it will in vast economies like the United States or China, which have starkly divergent views on civil liberties and privacy.

The Biden administration said this week that it would not push for a mandatory vaccination credential or a federal vaccine database, attesting to the sensitive political and legal issues involved. In the European Union and Britain, which have taken tentative steps toward vaccine passports, leaders are running into thorny questions over their legality and technical feasibility.

And in Japan, which has lagged the United States and Britain in vaccinating its population, the debate has scarcely begun. There are grave misgivings there about whether passports would discriminate against people who cannot get a shot for medical reasons or choose not to be vaccinated.

Japan, like other Asian countries, has curbed the virus mainly through strict border controls.

“Whether or not to get vaccinated is up to the individual,” said Japan’s health minister, Norihisa Tamura. “The government should respond so that people won’t be disadvantaged by their decision.”

Still, almost everywhere, the pressure to restart international travel is forcing the debate. With tens of millions of people vaccinated, and governments desperate to reopen their economies, businesses and individuals are pushing to regain more freedom of movement. Verifying whether someone is inoculated is the simplest way to do that.

“There’s a very important distinction between international travel and domestic uses,” said Paul Meyer, the founder of the Commons Project, a nonprofit trust that is developing CommonPass, a scannable code that contains Covid testing and vaccination data for travelers. Aruba was the first government to sign up for it.

“There doesn’t seem to be any pushback on showing certification if I want to travel to Greece or Cyprus,” he said, pointing out that schools require students to be vaccinated against measles and many countries demand proof of yellow fever vaccinations. “From a public health perspective, it’s not fair to say, ‘You have no right to check whether I’m going to infect you.’”

CommonPass is one of multiple efforts by technology companies and others to develop reliable, efficient systems to verify the medical status of passengers — a challenge that will deepen as more people resume traveling.

At Heathrow Airport in London, which is operating at a fraction of its normal capacity, arriving passengers have had to line up for hours while immigration officials check whether they have proof of a negative test result and have purchased a mandatory kit to test themselves twice more after they enter the country.

Saudi Arabia announced this week that pilgrims visiting the mosques in Mecca and Medina during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan would have to show proof on a mobile app of being “immunized,” which officials defined as having been fully vaccinated, having gotten a single dose of a vaccine at least 14 days before arrival, or having recovered from Covid.

In neighboring United Arab Emirates, residents can show their vaccination status on a certificate through a government-developed app. So far, the certificate is not yet widely required for anything beyond entering the capital, Abu Dhabi, from abroad.

Few countries have gone farther in experimenting with vaccine passports than Israel. It is issuing a “Green Pass” that allows people who are fully vaccinated to go to bars, restaurants, concerts and sporting events. Israel has vaccinated more than half its population and the vast majority of its older people, which makes such a system useful but raises a different set of questions.

With people under 16 not yet eligible for the vaccine, the system could create a generational divide, depriving young people of access to many of the pleasures of their elders. So far, enforcement of the Green Pass has been patchy, and in any event, Israel has kept its borders closed.

So has China, which remains one of the most sealed-off countries in the world. In early March, the Chinese government announced it would begin issuing an “international travel health certificate,” which would record a user’s vaccination status, as well as the results of antibody tests. But it did not say whether the certificate would spare the user from China’s draconian quarantines.

Nor is it clear how eager other countries would be to recognize China’s certificate, given that Chinese companies have been slow in disclosing data from clinical trials of their homegrown vaccines.

Singapore has also maintained strict quarantines, even as it searches for way to restart foreign travel. Last week, it said it would begin rolling out a digital health passport, allowing passengers to use a mobile app to share their coronavirus test results before flying into the island nation.

Free movement across borders is the goal of the European Union’s “Digital Green Certificate.” The European Commission last month set out a plan for verifying vaccination status, which would allow a person to travel freely within the bloc. It left it up to its 27 member states to decide how to collect the health data.

That could avoid the pitfalls of the European Union’s vaccine rollout, which was heavily managed by Brussels and has been far slower than that in the United States or Britain. Yet analysts noted that in data collection, there is a trade-off between decentralized and centralized systems: the former tends to be better at protecting privacy but less efficient; the latter, more intrusive but potentially more effective.

“Given the very unequal access to vaccines we are witnessing in continental Europe, there is also an issue of equal opportunity and potential discrimination,” said Andrea Renda, a senior research fellow at the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels.

For some countries, the legal and ethical implications have been a major stumbling block to domestic use of a passport. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada put it last month, “There are questions of fairness and justice.”

And yet in Britain, which has a deeply rooted aversion to national ID cards, the government is moving gingerly in that direction. Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week outlined broad guidelines for a Covid certificate, which would record vaccination status, test results, and whether the holder had recovered from Covid, which confers a degree of natural immunity for an unknown duration.

Mr. Johnson insisted that shops, pubs and restaurants would not be required to demand the certificate, though they could opt to do so on their own. That did not stop dozens of lawmakers, from his Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party, from opposing the plan on grounds that were legal, ethical and plainly commercial — that it could keep people out of the country’s beloved pubs.

Government officials now suggest that the plan is targeted less at pubs and restaurants and more at higher-risk settings, like nightclubs and sporting events.

“Would we rather have a system where no one can go to a sports ground or theater?” said Jonathan Sumption, a former justice on Britain’s Supreme Court, who has been an outspoken critic of the government’s strict lockdowns. “It’s better to have a vaccine passport than a blanket rule which excludes these pleasures from everybody.”

Reporting was contributed by Stephen Castle in London, Motoko Rich in Tokyo, Shashank Bengali in Singapore, Vivian Wang in Hong Kong, Vivian Yee in Cairo, Asmaa al-Omar in Beirut, and Ian Austen in Ottawa.

View Source

Two Presidents Visited Turkey. Only the Man Was Offered a Chair.

Either way, it came a “terrible time,” said Nigar Goksel, the top Turkey expert at the International Crisis Group, especially because of the recent withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention.

According to data gathered by U.N. Women, the United Nations agency for women’s rights, 38 percent of Turkish women experience violence from their partner at least once in their lifetime, and more than one in 10 was subjected to domestic violence in the last 12 months. In the 2021 Global Gender Gap report, an annual review by the World Economic Forum that covers economics, politics, education and health, Turkey ranked 133 among 156 countries.

The protocol fail in Tuesday’s meeting comes at a crucial time in Turkey’s relations with the European Union.

In recent months, Turkey has emphasized a desire to improve relations with the bloc and to revive its process for joining. The meeting was intended to build momentum in a relationship that has been fraught with disagreements in recent years on issues like migration, maritime borders and customs arrangements.

“Whatever the realities on the protocol side, the incident clearly underscores the fact that Turkey was blind to the optics of how this would appear,” said Mr. Lesser of the German Marshall Fund. Those optics, he added, “will only underscore the sense that Europe is not on the same page when it comes to values, when it comes to diversity, inclusion and gender equality.”

That point was not lost on the offended party.

Ms. von der Leyen “seized the opportunity to insist on the issues related to women’s rights in general and to the Istanbul Convention in particular,” Mr. Mamer, her spokesman, said. “It would have been discussed certainly in any case, but obviously this sharpened her focus on the issue.”

Matina Stevis-Gridneff reported from Brussels, and Carlotta Gall from Istanbul. Monika Pronczuk contributed reporting from Brussels.

View Source

Coronavirus Vaccine ‘Fiasco’ Damages Europe’s Credibility

“This has been catastrophic for the reputation of the European Union,” said Mark Leonard, the director of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

At the start of the crisis, as nations erected borders and hoarded protective equipment, masks and gowns, there was a huge desire for European cooperation, he said, “not because people liked the E.U. or its institutions, but because they were so absent.”

But the question now, he said, is buyer’s remorse. “The E.U. waded into an area with no expertise and competence and put a spotlight on itself,” he said. “In the minds of many who look at the U.K. and U.S. and Israel, they think we’re doing badly because of European cooperation, and that will have a corrosive impact in other areas.”

Timothy Garton Ash, a professor of European studies at the University of Oxford, said that the “fundamental legitimacy” of the bloc came less from its democratic institutions, which are weak, than from its performance, which is how it will be judged. Its real legitimacy, he said, “is what it delivers for Europeans.”

But the bloc’s other major initiative, a groundbreaking pandemic recovery fund, has yet to be put in place and is dwarfed by American stimulus packages.

While national leaders commonly take credit for every success and blame the Commission for every failure, the pandemic has displayed the vulnerabilities of a bureaucracy with weak and divided leadership. An effort by the Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, a medical doctor, to enhance her power and profile by grabbing vaccine procurement from member states has proved disastrous.

View Source

Vaccine ‘Fiasco’ Damages Europe’s Credibility

“This has been catastrophic for the reputation of the European Union,” said Mark Leonard, the director of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

At the start of the crisis, as nations erected borders and hoarded protective equipment, masks and gowns, there was a huge desire for European cooperation, he said, “not because people liked the E.U. or its institutions, but because they were so absent.”

But the question now, he said, is buyer’s remorse. “The E.U. waded into an area with no expertise and competence and put a spotlight on itself,” he said. “In the minds of many who look at the U.K. and U.S. and Israel, they think we’re doing badly because of European cooperation, and that will have a corrosive impact in other areas.”

Timothy Garton Ash, a professor of European studies at the University of Oxford, said that the “fundamental legitimacy” of the bloc came less from its democratic institutions, which are weak, than from its performance, which is how it will be judged. Its real legitimacy, he said, “is what it delivers for Europeans.”

But the bloc’s other major initiative, a groundbreaking pandemic recovery fund, has yet to be put in place and is dwarfed by American stimulus packages.

While national leaders commonly take credit for every success and blame the Commission for every failure, the pandemic has displayed the vulnerabilities of a bureaucracy with weak and divided leadership. An effort by the Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, a medical doctor, to enhance her power and profile by grabbing vaccine procurement from member states has proved disastrous.

View Source

When There’s One Covid Rule Book for Locals, and Another for Tourists

MADRID — Óscar Robles Álvarez yearned to celebrate Easter this year with his family in his hometown in northeastern Spain, which he has not visited since Christmas 2019.

Instead, he will spend the holiday on Sunday in Madrid, where he now lives, because of domestic travel restrictions imposed to stem another wave of Covid-19. He says he understands why the government recently extended those rules, but cannot fathom why no such travel ban applies to foreign tourists visiting his hometown, Getxo, a beach resort popular with surfers 80 miles from the border with France.

“This situation is completely unfair,” said Mr. Robles Álvarez, 50, who worked in finance but is currently jobless. “Citizens are being asked to behave responsibly by politicians who themselves decide completely incoherent Covid rules.”

In the prelude to Easter, a debate in Spain about whether double standards are being applied to contain Covid-19 has been intensifying. The polemic is echoed in other European countries, where the authorities have also restricted internal travel while allowing their citizens to go abroad and permitting foreign tourists to enter and move about more freely.

a digital certificate that could ease tourism this summer, including internal travel within member states.

“Given that transmission and risk are similar for national and cross-border journeys, member states should ensure there is coherence between the measures applied to the two types of journey,” said Christian Wigand, a commission spokesman.

tough rules in place restricting movement across the country. Residents are allowed to leave their town — or their house in the more affected regions — only for work, health reasons or other reasons deemed necessities.

But the government has allowed Italians to travel for tourism to most European countries, including France, Germany and Spain, only asking them to get a negative test 48 hours before their return.

A spokesman for Italy’s health minister said the risk of contagion from international travel with restrictions was lower than that of allowing free movement between domestic regions. One reason for that, he said, is volume — it is easier and cheaper for large numbers of people to travel domestically — adding that it would also be virtually impossible to enforce quarantines on travel between regions.

The Italian hotel association, Federalberghi, was among those accusing the government of double standards.

told a news conference in March that the country’s travel rules were incongruous and hard to explain.

Not helping matters, the European Union has also struggled with its vaccine rollout; Spain and Italy have both inoculated only about 11 percent of their populations. In comparison, Britain has given shots to 46 percent and the United States 29 percent, according to data from The New York Times.

apologized last week after she dropped an unpopular plan to extend a shutdown over the Easter vacation.

added hundreds of Easter holiday flights between Germany and Spain.

Laura Malone, the communications manager for Riu, a Spanish hotel operator with headquarters on Majorca, said there had been “an exponential rise in our bookings.” She said that the company had reopened two hotels on Majorca and that 90 percent of the reservations were coming from Germans.

The response to the pandemic has also become more fragmented in Spain because regional administrations rather than the central government have been setting most of the lockdown rules since the summer.

Before a local election in May, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, leader of the Madrid region and member of the center-right Popular Party, has taken to social media to criticize the economic restrictions of the Socialist-led national government. She has encouraged foreigners to visit the capital and portrayed the city’s bars and stores as bastions of freedom in comparison with other regions’ tougher restrictions.

This past weekend, the newspaper El País published on its front page a photograph of partying after the 11 p.m. curfew in the streets of central Madrid, and the images spread quickly on social media.

opera house, particularly because cultural offerings are more restricted in their own cities.

Teresa Buquerín, who runs a hotel in the medieval town of Ayllón, expressed mixed feelings about only having 25 percent of her rooms booked so far for Easter when she would normally have domestic tourists from the capital to fill her establishment. Ayllón is about 85 miles north of Madrid, but it is on the other side of a regional border that residents of the capital cannot cross under the pandemic restrictions now in place.

Madrid is “our economic engine,” Ms. Buquerín said, adding. “I would certainly always welcome people from Madrid, but only as long as they have been respecting the same safety rules as us, which is not what seems to have been happening.”

After keeping her hotel shut for four months until mid-March, she added, “It would be disastrous if I had to close again the week after Easter because of a new Covid problem.”

Emma Bubola contributed reporting from Rome.

View Source

Deliveroo Heads to I.P.O. as Challenges Pile Up

LONDON — The initial public offering for Deliveroo, the Amazon-backed food delivery service, is set to be Britain’s biggest this year, giving the company an initial market value of 7.6 billion pounds, or $10.4 billion. But the listing, whose announcement was quickly heralded as a post-Brexit victory for London’s financial sector, has since been rocked by accusations of poor pay for Deliveroo riders.

Major investors, meanwhile, said they would sit out the offering.

Trading is set to begin on Wednesday, with shares priced at £3.90 a share, the bottom of the target range that originally was as high as £4.60. Earlier this week the company said that it wanted to price the shares “responsibly” and that it had received “very significant demand” from investors.

Deliveroo, which is based in London and was founded in 2013, is now in 12 countries and has over 100,000 riders, recognizable on the streets by their teal jackets and food bags. Last year, Amazon became its biggest shareholder with a 16 percent stake, which will drop to 11.5 percent after the I.P.O. The Deliveroo listing is the latest test for gig economy companies, whose business model is increasingly under threat in Europe as legal challenges mount.

Two weeks ago, Uber reclassified more than 70,000 drivers in Britain as workers who will receive a minimum wage, vacation pay and access to a pension plan, after a Supreme Court ruling. Analysts said the move could set a precedent for other companies and increase costs. In mainland Europe, where Deliveroo also operates, the European Commission is reviewing the legal status of gig economy workers.

a joint investigation by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism was published based on invoices of hundreds of Deliveroo riders. It found that a third of the riders made less than £8.72 an hour, the national minimum wage for people over 25.

Deliveroo dismissed the report, calling the union a “fringe organization” that didn’t represent a significant number of Deliveroo riders. The company said that riders were paid for each delivery and earn “£13 per hour on average at our busiest times.” In Britain, Deliveroo has 50,000 riders.

“Our way of working is designed around what riders tell us matters to them most — flexibility,” Deliveroo said in response to the investigation.

DoorDash, the American food delivery company, went public in December to much fanfare. Its share price jumped 86 percent on the first day of trading, closing at $189.51. On Monday, DoorDash stock closed at $129.98.

Some of Britain’s largest asset managers, including Legal & General Investment Management, which manages more than £1.2 trillion in assets, have said they will sit out the I.P.O. amid concerns about shareholder voting rights and worker rights. Like many start-up companies, Deliveroo will have two classes of shares, which for as long as three years will give William Shu, a co-founder and the chief executive, 57 percent of the voting rights.

The offering has prompted a debate over whether companies with dual-class shares should be allowed to join the “premium listings” section of the London Stock Exchange, which would permit them to be part of indexes like the FTSE 100, forcing many index funds to buy them.

While the New York Stock Exchange and other major exchanges allow this kind of privilege to dual-class companies (consider Google or Facebook), the London exchange does not — although some would like it to.

Legal & General said it was urging Britain’s financial regulator to preserve the rule keeping dual-class companies out of the premium listings.

This would protect smaller investors “against potential poor management behavior, that could lead to value destruction and avoidable investor loss,” the asset manager said. This year has also brought “increasing signs of countries and governments reviewing the gig economy status.”

But a recent review of Britain’s listings rules that has been embraced by the government recommended that companies with dual-class shares be allowed into the premium listings, with some restrictions. The review is part of a series of efforts by the Treasury to find ways to enhance London’s appeal as a global financial center, after Britain’s divorce from the European Union sent some trading activity to cities like New York and Amsterdam. One of the Treasury’s goals is to make the London stock market more appealing to tech companies after a dearth of major listings in recent years.

Rishi Sunak, said that it was a “fantastic” decision and that Deliveroo was a “true British tech success story.”

“The U.K. is one of the best places in the world to start, grow and list a business — and we’re determined to build on this reputation now we’ve left the E.U.,” Mr. Sunak said.

Michael J. de la Merced contributed reporting.

View Source

More Covid-19 Vaccine Production Sites Have Been Approved in the E.U.

The European Union’s stumbling Covid-19 vaccination drive, badly shaken by the recent AstraZeneca safety scare, got a boost Friday from the European Medicines Agency, which approved new AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine production sites.

The agency, an arm of the European Union and Europe’s top drug regulator, approved sites in the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. It also loosened regulations for how long the Pfizer vaccine must be stored at ultralow temperatures.

The moves could speed up the Continent’s lagging vaccine production and distribution, which have been plagued by delays and setbacks.

Though the European Union is flush with cash, influence and negotiating heft, only about 10 percent of its citizens have received a first dose, compared with 26 percent in the United States and 44 percent in Britain. The bloc of 27 nations was comparatively slow to negotiate contracts with drugmakers, and regulators were cautious and deliberative in approving some vaccines. And it has been stymied by supply disruptions and shortages.

AstraZeneca vaccine and distribution in several countries was temporarily halted. Most of those countries have resumed using it, after the E.M.A. vouched for its safety, but public confidence in the shot has been severely undermined.

The agency said a new warning label would be added to the vaccine so that people in the medical community could watch for rare complications that could lead to blood clots and brain bleeds.

Trust in the AstraZeneca vaccine is essential to fighting the pandemic worldwide. The shot is more easily stored and less expensive than Pfizer’s or Moderna’s, and for now, it is sold without the goal of earning a profit.

The European Union has exported more vaccine doses than it has administered. On Wednesday, the it revealed emergency legislation that would curb exports of Covid-19 vaccines manufactured in its countries for the next six weeks.

According to a tweet by Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the European Union has shipped out 77 million doses since early December, 88 million will have been distributed internally by the end of the week, and 62 million shots have been administered within the member nations.

“I can’t explain to European citizens why we are exporting millions of vaccine doses to countries that are producing vaccines themselves and aren’t sending us anything back,” Ms. von der Leyen, said last week.

View Source

With a Police Raid and the Threat of Export Curbs on Vaccines, the E.U. Plays Tough

BRUSSELS — Tipped off by European authorities, a team of Italian police inspectors descended on a vaccine-manufacturing facility outside Rome over the weekend. They discovered 29 million doses of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines, feeding suspicions that the company was trying to spirit them overseas instead of distributing them in the European Union.

Four days of checks later, Italian officials accepted AstraZeneca’s explanation that the doses were going through quality control before being shipped to the developing world, and to European countries.

The cinematic raid — intended to put a little muscle behind European Union threats to make the company stop exporting doses — now stands as a vivid example of just how desperate the hunt for vaccines is getting. It was also a sign of the continuing tensions between the bloc and those it suspects might be cheating.

On Wednesday the bloc flexed its powers even more, unveiling emergency rules that grant it broad authority to halt exports of Covid vaccines made in the E.U., escalating an uncharacteristically protectionist stance and risking a fresh crisis in its fragile relations with Britain, a former member.

very advanced in its vaccination campaign and therefore is seen as less needy.

The new rules encourage blocking shipments to countries that do not export vaccines to the European Union or to countries that have “a higher vaccination rate” than the European Union “or where the current epidemiological situation is less serious” than in the bloc.

The European Commission tried to explain why the export measures were necessary.

“Nineteen countries are now reporting increasing case numbers, 15 member states are reporting increased hospital ICU admissions, while eight member states are now reporting increased numbers of deaths,” said Stella Kyriakides, the bloc’s health commissioner.

“This is where we stand today, we’re dealing with a pandemic,’’ she added. ‘‘And this is not seeking to punish any countries. We are the strongest supporters of global solidarity.”

With the threat of export restrictions hanging in the air, the British government and the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, struck a conciliatory tone.

“Given our interdependencies, we are working on specific steps we can take — in the short, medium and long term — to create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all our citizens” a joint statement issued Wednesday said.

The E.U. has come under criticism at home for permitting exports in the first place, when the United States and Britain practically locked up domestic production for domestic use through contracts with pharmaceutical companies. Until now, the E.U. blocked only a single small shipment to Australia on the grounds that the country was virtually Covid-free.

E.U. officials said the new rules would allow a degree of discretion, meaning they won’t result in a blanket ban on exports, and the officials still expected many exports to continue.

But the measures caused discomfort in many E.U. countries, including the Netherlands and Belgium — both home to major vaccine-exporting factories — and added to worries about disruptions to global supply chains as well as damage to their reputations. Others, such as France and Italy, were happy to see the E.U. take tougher action. E.U. leaders were set to meet via teleconference to discuss the situation Thursday.

“With this mechanism we have a certain leverage, so we can engage in discussion with other major vaccine producers,” Valdis Dombrovskis, the bloc’s trade czar, said at a news briefing Wednesday.

“Despite the fact that the E.U. is one of the global hot spots of the pandemic, the E.U. is at the same time also the second largest exporter of vaccines,” Mr. Dombrovskis said.

From the E.U. perspective, things are so dire that experts argue the export curbs shouldn’t draw shock or consternation.

“In a situation where 70 million doses have been delivered to the E.U. and 40 million have been exported, I do think you don’t have to be too shy about it,” said Guntram Wolff, director of the Brussels-based Bruegel think tank.

“I would have preferred the Commission had fixed this issue earlier with better contracts, but from an ethical point of view, how can you justify shipping a vaccine to the U.K. for a 30-year old to be vaccinated, when a 70-year-old in Belgium is still waiting?”

Mr. Wolff said that trading partners such as Britain should cut the E.U. some slack because of the circumstances, but noted the more aggressive approach was risky.

“At the end of the day, how many more vaccines can you get and what is the risk? An escalation, a trade war, and if supply chains get disrupted, a net-negative outcome for everyone because the overall supply of vaccine goes down,” he said.

These were good reasons, he added, to keep the export control option for leverage but avoid using it as much as possible.

Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting from Siena, Italy; Monika Pronczuk from Brussels and Benjamin Mueller from London.

View Source

Cache of 29 Million AstraZeneca Doses in Italy Raises E.U. Suspicions

BRUSSELS — A stockpile of 29 million doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine that were found languishing in a facility in Italy became the new flash point on Wednesday in the conflict between the pharmaceutical company and the European Union, as the bloc prepared to unveil stringent export restrictions primarily meant to stop drugmakers from sending doses abroad.

The Italian authorities found the vaccines in a site visit, European Union officials said, at a factory near Rome that is contracted to fill and finish Covid-19 vaccine vials for AstraZeneca.

The Italian authorities went to the site after receiving an alert from the European Commission, which found a discrepancy between what the company said it was producing in European Union facilities, and what the facilities themselves were reporting.

The presence of so many doses raised suspicions that the pharmaceutical company was trying to find a way to export them to Britain or elsewhere, something the bloc has demanded that AstraZeneca stop doing until the company fulfills its promises for deliveries.

daily La Stampa, was bound for Britain. They said the company, when confronted about the doses, said that 16 million doses were bound for the E.U. market and 13 million to countries under the Covax initiative that aims to get doses to poorer nations. Those latter exports would be exempt from E.U. controls, as they are deemed to be of humanitarian nature.

AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The officials said they had asked AstraZeneca for additional information about where the active ingredient in the vaccine vials found in Italy had been manufactured — a question aimed at forcing the company to provide more information about its supply chain and production capacity.

For AstraZeneca, the dispute over the Italian doses was the latest in a series of communications blunders with health officials on both sides of the Atlantic that have soured the company’s relationship with several governments.

Some American officials learned about a snag in the company’s clinical trials last year from the news media. The company’s U.S. trial was paused for nearly seven weeks last fall, in part because AstraZeneca was slow to provide American regulators with evidence that the vaccine had not caused a neurological illness. (Investigators later concluded the symptoms were not linked to the vaccine.)

But analysts believe that some of AstraZeneca’s manufacturing difficulties are also a reflection of the company’s ambitious global distribution plans. It had intended to make as many as three billion doses this year, in part by contracting its manufacturing to plants all over the world. Other vaccine makers, by contrast, are relying on only a few facilities.

That global network of factories, analysts said, had the potential to create complications in the company’s supply chain, though it is also part of what has made the vaccine so critical to the global vaccination effort.

Benjamin Mueller contributed reporting from London.

View Source