EU countries have so far donated just a tiny portion of excess COVID-19 vaccines to poor nations, mostly AstraZeneca shots, less than 3 per cent of the 160 million doses they plan to give away in total to help tame the global pandemic, an EU document shows.
The European Union has committed to helping inoculate the most vulnerable across the world but, like other wealthy countries, EU states have so far focused on buying shots to inoculate their own citizens, contributing to a shortage of vaccines elsewhere.
EU states, with a combined adult population of 365 million, have so far received about 500 million doses from drugmakers and expect nearly a billion by the end of September.
But as of July 13, they had donated less than four million shots, the internal document, compiled by the European Commission and reviewed by Reuters, shows.
In total, it says EU countries have committed to sharing about 160 million doses, mostly without preference about their destination. The tally of shipments and pledged total have not been reported before.
Brussels has previously said EU nations plan to donate at least 100 million doses by the end of the year. There is no timeline for the target listed in the document.
Those distributed so far went mostly to countries and territories with a link to the donor as member states seek to boost relations with nearby countries and deepen diplomatic ties.
A spokesman for the Commission declined to comment on the document and the donations because these decisions were made by national governments.
The small shipments are likely to stir the debate about how wealthy countries are sharing their surplus shots while poor countries still struggle to get supplies.
The World Health Organisation has called on Western governments to donate shots to the COVAX program it runs with vaccine charity GAVI to ensure fair and equitable distribution to the world's neediest.
The EU document shows that most doses will be shared through the program.
Many poor countries rely on COVAX for their vaccines, but it has so far delivered only 135 million shots globally and is highly dependent on donated doses. Plans to buy shots on its own were temporarily derailed by vaccine makers' production problems and export restrictions in India.
The EU has received enough vaccines to fully inoculate 70 per cent of adults, while South Africa has given only 7 per cent of its adult population one dose and Nigeria only 1 per cent.
The EU shipments are also small compared with more than 15 million doses donated by Washington and shipped over the past month to countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America as part of the US pledge to give away 80 million vaccines. A big portion of those have been through COVAX.
EU countries have so far promised to donate almost exclusively AstraZeneca shots, the document shows.
Many EU countries have set limits on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to concerns about extremely rare blood clotting.
Germany, the EU's largest country, has committed to donating 33 million doses, the document says.
German officials said donations would begin in August.
France has promised 60 million doses, mostly to COVAX but it has so far delivered only about 800,000 doses, half of which went to its former colonies Senegal, Mauritania and Burkina Faso, the document shows.