Fury as AstraZeneca say they cannot meet EU's Covid-19 vaccine demands

Fury in Brussels after AstraZeneca say they cannot meet £300m Covid-19 vaccine deal demands ‘due to EU supply chain’ problems

  • AstraZeneca was expected to deliver 80 million doses to EU by the end of March
  • The company said they can now only supply 31 million jabs, a cut of 60 per cent
  • The vaccine makers have blamed supply chain problems for the delays
  • But EU chiefs are demanding answers over their £300million deal 

EU leaders have arranged an urgent meeting with AstraZeneca executives after the company unexpectedly slashed its supply of vaccines to the bloc.

The vaccine makers have blamed the EU’s supply chain for their failure to deliver the promised 80million vaccines by the end of March as part of a £300million deal.

AstraZeneca, which developed its shot with Oxford University, said on Friday they could only offer 31million vaccines in the first quarter, a cut of 60 per cent.

AstraZeneca has blamed the EU’s supply chain for their failure to deliver the promised 80million vaccines by the end of March

Furious EU officials said they will investigate their claims and have questioned why Britain is not suffering from similar delays in the rollout. 

Peter Liese, an EU lawmaker from the same party as Angela Merkel, said: ‘The flimsy justification that there are difficulties in the EU supply chain but not elsewhere does not hold water, as it is of course no problem to get the vaccine from the UK to the continent.

‘AstraZeneca has been contractually obligated to produce since as early as October and they are apparently delivering to other parts of the world, including the UK without delay.’

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker had received an up-front payment of 336 million euros (£298million) from the EU when they struck a deal in August, an EU official told Reuters.

EU executive Ursula von der Leyen had a call on Monday with AstraZeneca’s chief Pascal Soriot to remind him of the firm’s commitments

The agreement for at least 300million shots was the first signed by the EU to secure Covid vaccines. 

Under advance purchase deals sealed during the pandemic, the EU makes down payments to companies to secure doses, with the money expected to be mostly used to expand production capacity. 

But AstraZeneca said on Friday: ‘Initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated due to reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain.’

The site in question is a vaccine factory in Belgium run by the drugmaker’s partner Novasep.

A senior EU official said the bloc had a contractual right to check the company’s books to assess production and deliveries. 

The agreement for at least 300million shots was the first signed by the EU to secure Covid vaccines

A Commission spokesman said: ‘We expect the company to find solutions and to exploit all possible flexiblities to deliver swiftly.’ 

EU executive Ursula von der Leyen had a call on Monday with AstraZeneca’s chief Pascal Soriot to remind him of the firm’s commitments, with a second meeting scheduled for the same day.

AstraZeneca was not immediately available to comment on Monday.

The first EU official, who has been directly involved in talks with AstraZeneca, said there were no high expectations about the meeting in which the company will be asked to better explain the delays, although its outcome is still unclear.

Earlier in January, Pfizer, which is currently the largest supplier of COVID-19 vaccines to the EU, announced delays of nearly a month to its shipments, but hours later revised this to say the delays would last only a week.

EU contracts with vaccine makers are confidential, but the EU official did not rule out possible penalties for AstraZeneca, given the large revision to its earlier commitments. However the source did not elaborate on what could trigger the penalties. ‘We are not there yet,’ the official added. 

AstraZeneca’s vaccine is expected to be approved for use in the EU on January 29, with first deliveries expected from February 15.

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