The European Union should potentially tighten its rules for the export of COVID-19 vaccines by only allowing deliveries to countries that also allow exports of the doses, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has suggested.
Under the current export register, introduced in January, companies have to apply for an export permit for vaccines produced in the EU.
If national authorities find a company owes the bloc doses based on the agreement it signed, they can refuse exports of any shots manufactured in that country.
But on Wednesday, von der Leyen said the EU executive is mulling tightening the rules further. Authorisations could be made dependent on the principle of reciprocity, she said.
In other words, if vaccines were produced in a non-EU country but that country prohibited vaccine exports, the EU should block deliveries to that destination, according to von der Leyen.
This would not affect the United States, as the principle of reciprocity was guaranteed there, she said.
Instead, the announcement could be considered a warning shot to Britain. The commission alleges its former member is not exporting any vaccine doses while having received 10 million doses from the bloc.
"We are still waiting for doses to come from the UK, so this is an invitation to show us that there are also doses from the UK coming to the European Union so that we have reciprocity," von der Leyen said.
In response to von der Leyen's comments, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Britain "fully expects" vaccine contracts signed with drug producers to be fulfilled.
At a media briefing, Hancock said the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine was produced from research funded by the British government, and the government had helped set up the supply chain both in Britain and the EU.
He said Britain "legally signed a contract" to deliver 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine to British people and, echoing von der Leyen's previous comments, that there should not be "restrictions on the export of vaccines by companies where they are fulfilling contractual responsibilities".
Earlier this month, the British government had denied reports of preventing exports, stating it had "not blocked the export of a single COVID-19 vaccine".
In total, the EU had authorised the export of 41 million doses to 33 countries since the beginning of February, von der Leyen said, while member states were struggling to inoculate their own citizens.
The bloc should also consider whether to continue allowing exports to countries with higher vaccination rates than the EU.
"We want reliable deliveries of vaccines," she said. "This is about making sure that Europe gets its fair share."
The commission would present the proposal at a meeting of EU heads later this month, von der Leyen said.
The announcement comes amid delivery delays by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and a sluggish roll-out of vaccination campaigns across the bloc.
Von der Leyen accused AstraZeneca of not living up to its promises. Of 180 million doses the company had promised, only 70 million would be delivered in the second quarter of the year, she said.
While some politicians welcomed a stricter approach to exports, the EU executive's suggestion also met criticism. The introduction of the initial export rules had already sparked international outrage, with some accusing the bloc of "vaccine nationalism".