“Pharmaceutical companies and vaccine developers have ethical, societal and contractual responsibilities that they must abide by,” European Union Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told reporters on Wednesday. The opinion that the company is not obligated to deliver [vaccines] … it is neither true nor acceptable. “
“We are in a pandemic. We lose people every day. These are not numbers, they are not statistics, these are people with families, friends and colleagues,” she added.
Germany celebrated the one-year anniversary of the virus’s arrival on Wednesday, and the country has shown no signs of declining infections. Portugal reported a record number of daily deaths in the past 24 hours. The strict lockdown is in effect in the countries surrounding the bloc.
The harsh rebuke from the European Union came after AstraZeneca’s CEO, Pascal Soriot, said the company had agreed to “do its best” to deliver the doses requested by EU countries but had not contractually abided by a timeline. AstraZeneca said in a statement that it still plans to deliver tens of millions of doses to European Union countries in February and March.
We also had problems like this in the UK supply chain. But the UK contract was signed three months before the European vaccine deal. So, with the UK, we had an extra three months to fix all the glitches we encountered. As for Europe, we are They are three months late in fixing those gaps. ”
The twins’ delays have resulted in a severe backlash across the region, as governments are already under pressure due to the slow rollout of the vaccine. A very unusual public spat with AstraZeneca now threatens to spoil relations between Brussels and one of the major vaccine suppliers.
European Union officials threaten to tighten controls on vaccine exports, and Italy has warned that it may take legal action. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen added to the tension on Tuesday, saying the bloc “means action”.
“Europe has invested billions to help develop the world’s first Covid-19 vaccines, to create a true global common interest. Now companies must fulfill their obligations,” she said during a hypothetical meeting of the World Economic Forum.
In his interview with La Repubblica and other major European newspapers, Soriot admitted that his company ran into trouble at one of Europe’s large manufacturing facilities. He said that the first stage of vaccine production is often “complicated”, and the company is “essentially two months late” where it wanted it to be.
Sureut said: “Do I want to do a better job? Of course. But, as you know, if we present in February what we plan to offer, it is not a small size.” “We are planning to deliver millions of doses to Europe, it is not small.”
He also explained the fundamental differences in the agreements the company has entered into with the United Kingdom and the European Union.
He said, “The contract was signed with the UK first, and the UK said, of course,“ It supplied us first, and that’s fair enough. ”Three months later, when the European Union wanted it to be supplied“ in one way or another at the same time ”like the UK , AstraZeneca was unable to fulfill this commitment.
“We contracted [with the European Union] Not a contractual obligation. It is the best effort. We said we would do our best, but we cannot guarantee our success. In fact, we are a little late in getting there. “
The European Union admitted on Wednesday that it had signed a “best effort” agreement with AstraZeneca. But a senior European Union official said that the bloc had already paid part of a down payment of 336 million euros (406 million dollars) aimed at boosting production, and Kyriakides rejected the “first come first served” logic.
“We signed a pre-purchase agreement for a product that was not there at the time and is still not authorized until now. We signed it specifically to ensure that the company builds the manufacturing capacity to produce the vaccine early, so that they can deliver a certain amount of doses on the day the authorization is made. So. “
The European Union also said that the doses produced at AstraZeneca’s plants in the UK should be used to fulfill its request, which opens the door to a potential dispute with London.
“There is also no hierarchy of the full production plants mentioned in the advance purchase agreement,” Kyriakides said. “There are two in the European Union and two in the United Kingdom.”
AstraZeneca said in its statement that it has established more than ten regional supply chains to produce its vaccine, in cooperation with more than 20 partners in more than 15 countries.
“Each supply chain has been developed with inputs and investments from specific countries or international organizations based on supply agreements, including our agreement with the European Commission,” the company said.
“Since each supply chain is set up to meet the needs of a specific agreement, the vaccine produced from any supply chain is intended for relevant countries or regions and uses local manufacturing where possible.”
Ho-Yin Mak, associate professor of management sciences at Oxford Said Business School, said the delays in producing AstraZeneca vaccine are a result of the absence of slack in its supply chain.
“Part of this is inevitable … production hiccups like the yield problems reported by AstraZeneca are not uncommon, especially when manufacturers try to increase production rates quickly,” he said.
But European governments are demanding answers about the delays, noting that the success of vaccination efforts depends on the private sector.
“On the one hand, we can only welcome the result of the science, and on the other hand they have a monopoly and we are fully accredited,” Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroek said on Saturday. “There might be problems with production, but these doubts and advertisements make it very difficult to organize the campaign.”
On Monday, Kyriakides said the bloc would now demand “complete transparency regarding vaccine exports” from the European Union.
“In the future, all companies producing vaccines against Covid-19 in the European Union will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries. Humanitarian deliveries are of course not affected by this,” she said on Twitter.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said that the controls are not related to putting “the European Union first” but to making sure that Europe gets its fair share.
“From my point of view, it makes sense to have an export limit, which means that the vaccines that leave the European Union have a license so that we know what is being produced, what is leaving Europe, to where it leaves so that there is a fair distribution,” he told the German ZDF.
Soriot said he understood the frustration.
The CEO said, “Governments are under pressure. Everyone is kind of freaking out, you know, exacerbated or emotional about these things. But I understand because the Commission is running the process for the whole of Europe.”
“We will help the European Union as soon as possible,” he added.
Single dose strategy
Soriot has also offered its support for a pioneering strategy in the UK that could help accelerate the introduction of the vaccine in the European Union.
In order to quickly inoculate more of its population, the UK is providing the first dose of the Pfizer / BioNTech or AstraZeneca vaccine to as many people as possible, before a second dose is given 12 weeks later.
“I think the one-dose strategy in the UK is quite the right path, at least for our vaccine,” Suriot said, adding that a second dose is essential for long-term protection.
There are no definitive clinical trial data on the effectiveness of administering only one dose of the two-dose vaccines.
– Saskia Vandorne James Frater Contribute to reporting.