BRUSSELS — The European Union is in the process of finalizing emergency legislation that would give it the power to restrict exports of Covid-19 vaccines for six weeks to ease supply shortages. It’s a sharp escalation in the union’s response to supply shortages at home that have created a political maelstrom as the continent confronts a rising third wave.
The draft legislation, which is set to be made public on Wednesday, was reviewed by The New York Times and confirmed by two E.U. officials involved in the drafting process. The new rules will make it harder for pharmaceutical companies producing Covid-19 vaccines in the European Union to export them and is likely to disrupt supply to Britain.
The European Union has been primarily at loggerheads with AstraZeneca since it drastically cut its supply to the bloc, citing production problems in January, and the company is the main target of the new rules. But the legislation, which could block the export of millions of doses from E.U. ports, could also affect the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Britain is by far the biggest benefactor of E.U. exports and will stand to lose the most by these rules. But they could also be applied to curb exports to other countries like Canada, the second-largest recipient of E.U.-made vaccines, as well as Israel, which gets doses from the bloc but is very advanced in its vaccination campaign and therefore seen as less needy.
“We are in the crisis of the century. And I’m not ruling out anything for now, because we have to make sure that Europeans are vaccinated as soon as possible,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, said last week in comments that paved the way for the new rules. “Human lives, civil liberties and also the prosperity of our economy are dependent on that, on the speed of vaccination, on moving forward.”
The legislation is unlikely to affect the United States, which has so far received fewer than one million doses from E.U.-based facilities.
The European Union allowed pharmaceutical companies to export more than 40 million vaccine doses to 33 countries between February and mid-March, with 10 million going to Britain and 4.3 million to Canada. The bloc has kept about 70 million at home and distributed them to its 27 member nations. But it has come under criticism for permitting exports in the first place, while the United States and Britain practically locked up domestic production for domestic use through contracts with pharmaceutical companies.
The outcome has been a troubled vaccine rollout for the world’s richest group of nations. The impact of the failures is being exacerbated by a third wave that is sending health care systems across the continent into emergency mode and ushering in painful new lockdowns.
Meanwhile, recipients of vaccines produced in E.U. member countries, as well as in other rich nations, have raced ahead with their inoculation campaigns. Nearly 60 percent of Israelis have received at least one vaccine dose, along with 40 percent of…