Belgian PM says that ban on vaccine exports is not on the cards

The Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Flemish liberal) has told VRT News that he and his government have no plans to ban exports of vaccines produced at pharmaceutical companies’ plants in Belgium. Speaking on the Sunday morning topical discussion programme ‘De zevende dag’, Mr De Croo added that an inspection at AstraZeneca’s plant in Seneffe (Hainaut) has confirmed the company’s claims that there are production issues there. 

Last week there was much discussion about delays to supplies of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, this week AstraZeneca has been in the eye of the storm. The British/Swedish pharmaceuticals company announced that it would be suppling 60% fewer doses of its vaccine to European Union countries than initially planned. 

Some feared that Pfizer and AstraZeneca were diverting supplies from the EU to countries such as the UK. Earlier this week the European Commission ruled that vaccines can only be exported to countries outside the EU if the country in which they are produced approves this. Both Pfizer and AstraZeneca produce vaccines in Belgium. Pfizer at a plant in Puurs (Antwerp province) and AstraZeneca at the Novasep factory at Seneffe in Hainaut. 

When asked if the Belgian, authorities intend to carry out stringent checks on the two companies’ production facilities here Mr De Croo said “As a government we have an important role in pre-financing the development of vaccines so there must be clarity. We have already received clarity from Pfizer, this proved more difficult with AstraZeneca, but we now have an explanation.  AstraZeneca pointed to production issues at Seneffe. The Federal Medicines and Health Products Agency (FAGG) has together with its European partners carried out checks at the site”. 

The inspectors found that there are indeed production issues at the Seneffe factory. "It appears that there is a shortage of the raw materials needed to make the vaccines. The analysis of the situation there is still ongoing. Is it a typical production problem caused by having to very greatly increase production in a short time or is the problem due to others having been given precedence?”, Mr De Croo said. 

As a preventative measure FAGG has been given the authority to implement an export ban if it deems this to be necessary. However, the Prime Minister says that “I hope that this won’t be necessary, and I don’t think that it is necessary. I presume that everyone is working with the best of intentions. However, if it becomes evident that the contract is not being respected, we have the means to hit back”, Mr De Croo said. 

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