European Council President Charles Michel on Tuesday rejected charges of vaccine nationalism leveled against the EU, saying that while Britain and the United States have outright bans on exports of COVID-19 shots, the EU had not stopped exporting.
The EU has found itself under fire at home for a vaccine roll-out much slower than those of former member Britain or the United States, and abroad for so far doing less than China, Russia or India to supply vaccines to poor countries.
Last week it annoyed vaccine buyers abroad by endorsing an Italian decision to halt a shipment to Australia.
Britain had a quick retort for the comments by Michel, who represents the 27 European Union member states, saying it has not blocked the export of a single COVID-19 vaccine.
Any references to a UK export ban or any restrictions on vaccines are completely false, a UK government spokesman said.
In a lengthy statement Michel laid out a defense of the bloc's strategy. He said that without Europe, it would not have been possible to develop and produce several vaccines in less than a year, and EU solidarity had ensured that poorer countries of the bloc received their first doses.
He took aim at the highly publicized supply of vaccines by China and Russia to other countries.
We should not let ourselves be misled by China and Russia, both regimes with less desirable values than ours, as they organize highly limited but widely publicized operations to supply vaccines to others. Michel also noted that China and Russia had both vaccinated fewer people at home than the EU.
Europe will not use vaccines for propaganda purposes. We promote our values, he said.
Michel also defended a system to control the export of doses produced in EU countries, invoked by Italy last week to block a shipment of AstraZeneca shots to Australia.
Our objective: to prevent companies from which we have ordered and pre-financed doses from exporting them to other advanced countries when they have not delivered to us what was promised, Michel said. The EU has never stopped exporting.
He said the EU would become the world's leading vaccine producer in the coming months and was the best equipped to adapt vaccine output quickly to virus mutations.
The British government's rebuff of Michel's comments came at a time of growing tensions between London and Brussels following the completion of Britain's exit from the EU at the end of 2020.