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BRUSSELS: The EU will extend its export control mechanism for Covid-19 vaccines for another three months, until the end the year, and then replace it with a "monitoring" scheme, the European Commission said Thursday.

The export control mechanism, introduced on January 29, means makers of Covid-19 vaccines produced in the EU need to get approval before shipping the doses outside the bloc.

It was brought in at the start of the EU's vaccination roll-out, which was extremely sluggish initially because of a big shortfall in the amount of doses UK-Swedish company AstraZeneca had promised.

Brussels was angry that Britain -- where AstraZeneca is headquartered -- was being supplied in proportionally far greater quantities even though some of the doses were made in the EU.

Since May, the vaccination rate in the 27-nation EU has progressed significantly, with 64 percent of its total population fully vaccinated, according to an AFP compilation of official figures.

By comparison, Britain has 66 percent of its population fully vaccinated, and the United States has 56 percent fully immunised.

EU hits goal of delivering vaccines for 70% of adults

The EU has also pivoted towards mRNA vaccines, particularly the one produced by German outfit BioNTech in partnership with US company Pfizer, after rare blood-clot problems with AstraZeneca increased public hesitancy about taking it.

The EU's vaccine export mechanism has been extended several times since it started, with the last prolongation running out on Thursday.

The European Commission said it was extending the mechanism again, until December 31, because "uncertainties remain, in particular with the emergence of new variants of the Covid-19 virus".

From January 1, it plans to have "a monitoring mechanism that will provide company-specific and timely vaccine export data".

The only time the current mechanism was used to block vaccine exports was in April, when 250,000 AstraZeneca doses destined for Australia were ordered held back.

Australia is lagging behind other developed countries because of low vaccine stocks, though inoculation has increased and the government now expects 80 percent of the population to be fully vaccinated by December.

According to the Commission, under the mechanism the EU has authorised the export of 738 million Covid vaccine doses to 56 destinations.

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