BRUSSELS — The European Union exported 34 million doses of coronavirus vaccines in recent weeks to dozens of countries, even as it faced shortages at home that contributed to its vaccine rollout trailing far behind drives in the United States, Britain and Israel.
The E.U. has come under fierce criticism for “vaccine nationalism” and protectionism, which intensified last week when Italy blocked a small shipment of doses to Australia, stepping up a tug of war over badly needed shots.
But export numbers, recorded in detailed, closely held documents seen by The New York Times, show that the European Union, far from being protectionist, has in fact been a vaccine exporting powerhouse.
That news, E.U. officials conceded privately, was bound to outrage European citizens in 27 nations who are still waiting for their shots while watching Americans, Britons, Israelis and others race past them into resuming a safer and more normal public life, and economic activity.
Whether to reveal the extent of E.U. exports has been hotly debated in the corridors of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, which is at the heart of procuring the vaccines and has suffered the biggest political blow for the underwhelming rollout.
But several senior E.U. officials argued that revealing the immense export efforts that are keeping countries around the world vaccinated and helping the world economy restart might help Europe’s reputation after last week’s dispute.
Italy was able to block the shipment to Australia last week under a new emergency rule that allows any E.U. member to halt exports of the vaccines produced in the bloc.
Italy’s decision was a bold, if symbolic move to push the bloc to make more demands of pharmaceutical companies. (The companies have contracts with countries around the world, but the details of the deals are often secret, making it difficult to know what deliveries have been promised to various countries.)
approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in its 27 countries, but the hopes that it would boost its sluggish immunization rollout were quickly crushed: the company revealed major production problems, and slashed delivery promises for the first quarter of the year.