Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the US President told the European Council meeting this evening that America and the European Commission will work closely to remove any bottlenecks delaying the production and delivery of vaccines.

Speaking during a break in the Council discussions, Micheál Martin said Joe Biden's intervention was very positive and it indicated a "new era" in the EU and US relationship.

"President Biden made a very strong presentation to the Council in the sense of renewing and resetting in the strongest way possible the transatlantic partnership," he said.

The Taoiseach said too there is a consensus at Council around the urgent need to increase production and have a consistent supply of vaccines in quarter two.

And there was agreement too on the need to keep supply chains open, he said.

He added that there was a shared view about the importance of exportation authorisation mechanisms, particularly in the context of AstraZeneca and companies that don't fulfil their contracts.

"People welcome the fact that the UK and Europe are now engaged in a process to work together in terms of that issue and indeed the wider issue of keeping those supply chains open," he said.

Ursula von der Leyen

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen released updated figures showing Europe as the world's biggest exporter of Covid-19 vaccines, rebuking UK accusations of vaccine "nationalism".

The European Commission president presented the figures at a video summit of EU leaders being held a day after her European Commission tightened rules on authorising vaccine shipments out of the bloc.

In two tweets, she showed that the European Union had exported around 77 million vaccine doses to 33 countries since December.

"In addition, as a lead donor to Covax, it has contributed to exports to low and middle income countries," Ms von der Leyen tweeted, referring to the World Health Organization-backed initiative providing vaccines.

An EU official told AFP that the export total included around 21 million doses sent to Britain, which in turn had sent zero doses to the European Union.

The posted data also showed, by way of comparison, vaccine deliveries in the European Union.

By the end of this week, 88 million doses will have been delivered in the 27-nation bloc, with 62 million jabs carried out and 18.2 million people - 4.1% of the EU's population of 450 million - fully vaccinated with two jabs.

The graphs underlined the slow start to Europe's vaccination rollout, with around 100 million doses supplied in the first quarter by three vaccine makers: 66 million from BioNTech/Pfizer, 10 million from Moderna and just 30 million (of a contracted 120 million) from AstraZeneca.

"While remaining open, the EU needs to ensure Europeans get a fair share of vaccines," Ms von der Leyen tweeted. 

Estimates she posted for the second quarter showed 360 million doses should be delivered to the EU: 200 million from BioNTech/Pfizer, 35 million from Moderna, 70 million from AstraZeneca (from 180 million originally promised) and 55 million from Johnson & Johnson.

Britain fears that an EU export authorisation scheme for vaccines leaving the bloc could hobble its vaccination rollout, which is running into headwinds after zooming along for three months.

AstraZeneca is the focus of the dispute between Brussels and London.

The Anglo-Swedish company is the mainstay of the UK roll-out and was meant to have been the first-quarter kickstart to Europe's effort but fell badly short.

Both sides are laying claim to AstraZeneca production from a plant in the Netherlands that is about to be authorised for operation.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has accused Brussels of wanting to break contract law and risking the EU's reputation of openness by tightening the export authorisation mechanism.

However yesterday both sides issued a joint statement speaking of the need to cooperate, given their inter-dependencies in vaccine production, to achieve a "win-win" outcome.

European Union leaders held a video conference today to discuss the worsening Covid-19 situation across Europe, as well as the European Commission's move to restrict exports of vaccines in an attempt to improve the security of supply for European citizens.

US President Joe Biden also joined the summit this evening to discuss EU-US relations.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin was to join a number of other leaders in rejecting any export restrictions because of the risk of an escalating vaccine trade war.

Any exports will be subject to new criteria related to the country that has ordered the vaccines.

The Commission says the export could be reviewed if the country already has a high proportion of its population vaccinated, if the coronavirus situation there is not grave, and if the country has not permitted vaccine exports back to the EU.

Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium all have strong concerns that such a move could trigger a trade war that would play havoc with long established, yet fragile vaccine supply chains.

However, other countries are adamant that the EU, which exports more vaccines around the world than anyone else, must start to think of its own citizens.

The leaders will not be asked to vote on the measure, already provisionally applied, at today's summit.

Speaking in parliament ahead of the summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "British production sites are manufacturing for Britain and the United States is not exporting, so we are reliant on what we can make in Europe.

"We have to assume that the virus, with its mutations, maybe occupying us for a long time to come so the question goes far beyond this year."

In addition, she said more work had to be done on ensuring the rest of the world was supplied with vaccines, since otherwise new mutations would keep emerging, some of which might turn out to be vaccine-resistant.

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Last night, the European Commission and the UK issued a joint statement saying they would work together in the short, medium and long-term to ensure that citizens on both sides were able to secure vaccines.

One supplier, AstraZeneca, remains embroiled in a dispute over a big shortfall in deliveries to the EU, apparently because it has honoured its contract with the UK first.

Diplomats say that despite the problems so far, there should be a sharp increase in supply in the second quarter of this year, with the EU receiving 300 million doses as bottlenecks are eased, and new vaccines come on stream.

Former EU ambassador to Washington David O'Sullivan has said that the joint UK/EU statement on vaccines is very encouraging and underlines the interdependence of countries in relation to vaccines and should lead to a productive and mutually beneficial dialogue.

Speaking to RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr O'Sullivan said that it is in the UK's interests that the rest of the EU is able to accelerate vaccine roll-out and that a "very, very significant increase" in vaccines is expected in the EU by the second quarter.

He said the fact that the UK had benefitted from importing 10 million vaccines from the EU is likely a factor in its move to enter more productive discussions.

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Later, Mr Biden will address the 27 leaders by video link as Washington and Brussels put on a show of mending ties after the diplomatic battles of the Donald Trump years.

On the eve of the summit, President Biden's top diplomat Antony Blinken concluded up a two-day visit to Brussels after talks with NATO ministers and top EU officials, promising close coordination.

Leaders will also consider diplomatic and economic incentives today to encourage strategic southeastern neighbour Turkey to continue improving often fraught ties with the EU and promote stability.

Relations with Ankara are on the table after an alarming spike in tension last year over Turkey's gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.

European Council President Charles Michel, who chairs the meeting, said the bloc want to step up "engagement with Turkey in a phased, conditional and reversible manner".

The EU is trying to build on recent conciliatory moves from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and has put sanctions over drilling in Cypriot waters on hold.

Brussels has been encouraged by the resumption of talks with Greece over a disputed maritime border and by plans to restart United Nations peace efforts for divided EU member state Cyprus.

But there are deep concerns over Ankara's recent moves to shut down an opposition party and its departure from a treaty on violence against women.

Additional reporting Tony Connelly, AFP