The Ministry of Health is not able to say if a potential crackdown on vaccine exports in the European Union could affect our Pfizer supply chain, writes Marc Daalder

Ministers and officials are unable to guarantee that New Zealand’s vaccine rollout won’t be affected by more stringent export controls on vaccines that are being mooted in the European Union.

The new rules, which are expected to be in force by Friday, New Zealand time, expand the ability of EU member states to block exports of vaccines, particularly to countries which don’t manufacture and export vaccines to the EU, or where vaccination rollouts are ahead of those in the EU, or “where the current epidemiological situation is less serious” than in Europe.

New Zealand would fall into the first and third categories. The EU has primarily warred with AstraZeneca over undersupply of its vaccine, which has not yet been approved for use in New Zealand, but the restrictions could affect exports of the Pfizer jab – our primary vaccine – as well.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health’s vaccine programme said the department was in contact with Pfizer.

“New Zealand expressed concern in February when the European Union introduced export restrictions on Covid-19 vaccines manufactured there. We will monitor this closely, as it will be voted on in the EU tomorrow, and the Ministry of Health is in ongoing contact with Pfizer to understand any future impact if these additional measures are passed,” the spokesperson said.

“Vaccine manufacturing relies on open global supply chains. It is in all countries’ interests to ensure these function smoothly, and facilitate the flow of Covid-19 vaccines.”

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said he hadn’t received any advice or information from Pfizer or from health officials since the EU revealed the new measures yesterday.

“We’re watching those developments very closely. That’s an evolving situation, so we’ll keep that under review,” he said.

All of the Pfizer vaccines that New Zealand has received so far have come from Belgium and Hipkins said future shipments were “most likely” to continue coming from the European country.

In response to the proposed restrictions, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson denounced the move on Thursday morning as a “blockade”.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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