March 25 (UPI) -- The European Union said it will tighten regulations over the export of COVID-19 vaccines to improve transparency, secure supply chains and ensure the bloc receives enough shots during a third wave of cases.
European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis told reporters during a press conference Wednesday that the bloc agreed to add two provisions to its vaccine export authorization mechanism to ensure "reciprocity and proportionality."
Dombrovskis said the EU is the only member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that exports to countries with vaccine-producing capabilities, which don't then export their vaccines to the EU.
It also continues to export vaccines to countries whose epidemiological situation is less severe than its own.
To right these "imbalances," he said, the bloc adopted the two principles of reciprocity and proportionality, under which exports of vaccines produced in the EU will be authorized depending on whether the destination country restricts its own vaccine and raw material exports and whether the conditions in those nations are better or worse than those in the EU.
"These are necessary to achieve our objective of ensuring timely access to COVID-19 vaccines for EU citizens," he said. "The most important thing at this crucial moment is to stabilize and accelerate the delivery of vaccines."
The new restrictions also add 17 countries to the list of those exempt from the EU's vaccine export regulations.
The two principles were adopted after British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca failed to deliver the previously agreed upon vaccine doses to the EU.
European Commission Ursula President von der Leyen said last week that the company had "unfortunately under-produced and under-delivered."
"And this painfully, of course, reduced the speed of the vaccination campaign," she said.
The EU had expected 90 million doses from AstraZeneca during the first quarter but projections point to only 30 million being delivered in that time frame, she said, adding for the second quarter, AstraZeneca reduced its 180 million contractured doses to 70 million.
"This is why we need to ensure that there is 'reciprocity' and 'proportionality,'" she said.
"I would just gently point out to anyone considering a blockade or interruption of supply chains that companies may look at such actions and draw conclusions about whether or not it is sensible or not to make future investments in countries where arbitrary blockades are imposed," he said.
Later Wednesday, the British government and the European Commission published a joint statement, saying they are discussing ways to ensure "a reciprocally beneficial relationship."
"Given our interdependencies, we are working on specific steps we can take -- in the short-, medium- and long-term -- to create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all our citizens," they said.
The EU has approved 380 of its 382 vaccine export requests.