BRUSSELS: The European Union has exported "over 1 billion" doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the past 10 months, the bloc's chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Monday (Oct 18).
"Very clearly, the European Union is the largest exporter of COVID-19 vaccines," she said, announcing the "important milestone" in a brief broadcast and statement.
Von der Leyen said that 87 million of the doses had been funnelled through the World Health Organization-led COVAX scheme to mid- and low-income countries.
Most of the exports are orders paid for by other countries for COVID-19 vaccine doses manufactured in the EU.
Von der Leyen said that, separate from the export figure, "the EU will donate in the next months at least 500 million doses to the most vulnerable countries". She urged other countries "to step up, too".
Her declaration comes in the context of a sharp divide between wealthier regions and poorer ones in terms of COVID-19 vaccination rates.
The European Union, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Singapore and Japan are all among those to have more than half of their populations fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile many countries in Africa and other places such as Afghanistan, Egypt, Myanmar and Syria have less than 10 per cent of their people inoculated.
The European Union, which has 65.6 per cent of its population fully inoculated according to an AFP tally of official statistics, has been stepping up exports of vaccines.
So too is the United States, which has 57 per cent fully jabbed. President Joe Biden said last week his government was raising its donations to Africa to a total 67 million doses.
G20 countries have pledged to fairer distribution of COVID-19 vaccines after World Trade Organization chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala pointed out early this month that, of more than 6 billion vaccine doses administered worldwide, only 1.4 per cent of people in poor countries have been fully vaccinated.
The European Union has in place a vaccine export control mechanism under which doses to be sent abroad have to be first approved by Brussels and the member state in which they are produced.
Only one shipment - a 250,000-dose consignment of AstraZeneca meant for Australia - has been blocked under the scheme, back in April.
"We have always shared our vaccines fairly with the rest of the world," von der Leyen said.
"We have exported as much as we delivered to EU citizens. Indeed, at least every second vaccine produced in Europe is exported."
She added: "Together with President Biden, we aim for a global vaccination rate of 70 per cent by next year."