EU sharpens knives in battle for vaccine

Europe stepped up its fight to secure COVID-19 vaccines on Thursday (January 28), warning drug companies such as AstraZeneca it would use all legal means and even block exports unless they delivered shots as promised.

European Council President Charles Michel said in a letter to four EU leaders that the EU should explore all options at its disposal if negotiations with companies over delayed deliveries failed.

Meanwhile, Britain insisted it receive all the shots it paid for, after the European Union asked AstraZeneca to divert supplies from the UK.

British cabinet minister Michael Gove said Thursday the UK's orders must be honoured.

The EU is lagging behind ex-member Britain, as well as the United States and Israel, in rolling out the vaccine.

And is now scrambling to get supplies as the West's drug-making giants slow deliveries because of production problems.

Vaccination centers in Germany and France are cancelling or delaying appointments, and the EU publicly rebuked AstraZeneca for failing to deliver, even though the bloc hasn't yet approved the vaccine.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot fired back that the EU was late to strike a supply contract, leaving little time to iron out production problems at a vaccine factory run by a partner in Belgium.

UK supply experienced similar glitches, he said, but they were sorted out because Britain signed a contract three months ago.

The swiftest mass vaccination drive in history is stoking tensions across the world, as big powers buy up vaccines in bulk and poorer nations navigate a financial and diplomatic minefield to collect whatever supplies are left.