The European Union has threatened to impose strict controls on the exporting of coronavirus vaccines made in the bloc.
The move could impact the UK’s supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is made in Belgium.
It comes amid growing European anger towards pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which is accused of failing to deliver the promised number of doses of the vaccine it developed with Oxford University.
European health commissioner Stella Kyriakides warned that the EU “will take any action required to protect its citizens and rights”, adding that an “export transparency mechanism” will be installed “as soon as possible”.
“In the future, all companies producing vaccines against COVID-19 in the EU will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries,” she said.
The UK government said it remained confident that supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is largely made in Oxfordshire and Staffordshire, would allow it to meet its target of vaccinating the most vulnerable by the middle of February.
A government spokeswoman said: “We remain in close contact with all of our vaccine suppliers. Our vaccine supply and scheduled deliveries will fully support offering the first dose to all four priority groups by 15 February.”
Earlier on Monday, Ms Kyriakides had criticised AstraZeneca’s decision to slow supplies of its vaccine as “unacceptable”.
In the future all companies producing vaccines against COVID19 in the EU will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries.
— Stella Kyriakides (@SKyriakidesEU) January 25, 2021
The pharmaceutical company, announced on Friday it could not meet agreed supply targets and, according to reports, that meant a cut of 60% to 31 million doses – just weeks after Pfizer also announced supply delays.
AstraZeneca is believed to have received an upfront payment of £298m when the 27-nation bloc sealed a supply deal with the company in August for at least 300 million doses.
Under advance purchase deals sealed during the pandemic, the EU makes down-payments to companies to secure doses, with the money expected to be mostly used to expand production capacity.
The vaccine is expected to be approved for use in the EU on 29 January, with first deliveries expected from 15 February.
An AstraZeneca spokesman said the company was doing everything it could to bring its coronavirus vaccine to millions of Europeans as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, it has been revealed the company, which has its headquarters in the UK, faces wider supply problems, with Australia and Thailand affected.
The UK is particularly reliant on the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab and it has been key to the country’s vaccine rollout so far, but Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned that supply across the board is “tight”.