Behind the scenes

UK quietly restricted Covid medicine exports to EU

Around 100 medications banned from export amid criticism of EU vaccine threats

The government last year placed export restrictions on medicines that could be used to treat Covid-19, despite criticising the EU for considering its own controls on vaccines produced on the continent.

Exports of around 100 drugs that have been suggested as possible treatments were banned because they “are needed for UK patients”, Politico reports.

Analysis by the news site found that the government “imposed controls on the export of over 170 medicines to other countries” since March last year.

Two of the most recent additions to the list, added in November last year, were dabigatran etexilate, a blood thinner used on some coronavirus patients, and semaglutide, which doctors believe could help ease the impact of Covid-19 on patients’ hearts. The list also includes flu vaccines and a “host of medicines associated with intensive care and long periods of intubation”, the site adds

The Department of Health and Social Care said that medicines “manufactured and intended for markets abroad are not subject to the export restrictions”.

“We have restricted the exporting and hoarding [of] medicines that have been placed on the market in the UK for UK patients to ensure the uninterrupted supply for NHS patients,” it added. “If medicines in the UK may be needed by our patients, they should not be diverted to other countries for financial gain.”

Boris Johnson this week attacked the EU amid reports that the bloc was considering imposing export controls on the Pfizer Covid vaccine produced in Belgium. The prime minister said he strongly opposed “restrictions on the supply of drugs across borders” and “restrictions on vaccines or their ingredients across borders”.

The EU export restrictions were mooted after AstraZeneca said it would not be able to deliver on a “three-digit million-euro” contract to reserve 300 million vaccine doses to the bloc. The pharmaceutical giant’s CEO Pascal Soriot has moved to defend the company’s rollout of the vaccine in the EU, describing its member states as “aggravated” and “emotional”.

However, there are signs that relations are thawing. After a crisis meeting held yesterday, described by both as “constructive”, EU Health Minister Stella Kyriakides said the pair “will work with the company to find solutions and deliver vaccines rapidly”.

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