Brussels - During the last few weeks, countries all across the world have been busy inoculating thousands of people every day against Covid-19, hoping to finally curb the spread of the coronavirus.
But with almost 450 million people living in the European Union and many vaccines requiring two shots per person, progress has been slow.
In response, the European Commission is proposing a so-called transparency register, where producers will have to indicate quantities and destination countries if they want to export Covid-19 vaccines to non-EU countries.
1. Could the EU ban vaccine exports to other countries?
According to EU officials ahead of the formal publication of the plan, yes - if it finds that a producer owes the bloc doses based on the advanced purchase agreement it signed.
While the proposed transparency register technically only provides for a list of intended exports, national authorities then can decide not to grant an export certificate, effectively banning the jabs from leaving the bloc, an EU official said on Thursday.
For example, if a pharmaceutical company signs a contract promising to deliver 100 million doses of its vaccine to the EU by the end of the first quarter, but only provides for half of those - while wanting to export the rest of the doses to another country it signed a contract with - an EU country could decide not to allow the exports.
The commission would likely also retain some oversight in this process, the official said.
2. Why has the EU executive proposed this now?
Last week, producer AstraZeneca announced that it could only provide a fraction of promised doses for the first three months of 2021. The company justified the slower delivery - which only affects the EU, but not Britain, for example - with hold-ups in a Belgian factory. This angered the EU, which argued that AstraZeneca should use its production plants in Britain, where no delays are currently at hand, to fulfil its contract with the EU.
The move to effectively require all vaccine exports to be approved could be seen as a way to increase pressure on AstraZeneca, but also to send a signal to other producers.
3. When would the mechanism be implemented, and would it help speed up delivery?
The register would be set up within a few days, if things go according to the commission's plan.
It is unlikely that it would bring immediate reprieve, however, as AstraZeneca currently faces production delays in one of its EU plants. The commission has suggested importing extra doses from Britain.
It also remains questionable whether, even if more doses were available, this would speed up inoculations in all countries as many have sufficient drugs and are struggling with logistical challenges on how to vaccinate their population.
4. Who could be affected?
The potential export restrictions would affect companies that produce in the European Union.
This currently applies to all EU-approved vaccines. Aside from AstraZeneca, German company BioNTech produces together with American company Pfizer in a Belgian factory.
US-giant Moderna also teamed up with EU companies to produce doses in the bloc.
The commission's proposal could also anger countries across the globe who have also concluded contracts with the companies.
Critics of the move feel it smacks of "vaccine nationalism" - something the commission roundly rejects.
EU centre-left lawmaker Bernd Lange warned on Thursday the move lead could to "a domino effect" and trigger export restrictions elsewhere.
Focusing on amping up production would be much more productive, he argued.