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Commission calls for ‘clear plan’ for AstraZeneca vaccine delivery

Image: European Parliament [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

British-Swedish company promises ‘even closer coordination’ amid outrage over delivery timing

The European Commission has asked the British-Swedish vaccine maker AstraZeneca to set out a “clear plan” for the “fast delivery” of the Covid-19 vaccine doses the Commission says it “reserved” for the EU from the company, having complained about postponements over the past week.

After a meeting on 27 January with AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot, EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides (pictured) said there had been a “constructive tone” but again stressed that “contractual obligations must be met”. Earlier on the day of the meeting, Kyriakides had said that the Commission had “serious concerns regarding the intention of AstraZeneca to supply considerably fewer doses in the coming weeks than agreed and announced”. 

An AstraZeneca spokesman said that at the meeting there was “a constructive and open conversation about the complexities of scaling up production of our vaccine, and the challenges we have encountered”. He added: “We have committed to even closer coordination to jointly chart a path for the delivery of our vaccine over the coming months as we continue our efforts to bring this vaccine to millions of Europeans at no profit during the pandemic.”

Before the meeting, Kyriakides said a comment Soriot gave in an interview with the newspaper La Repubblica, in which he said AstraZeneca had committed only to giving its “best efforts” to meet supply figures, was “neither correct nor is it acceptable”.

“We signed an advance purchase agreement…to ensure that the company builds the manufacturing capacity to produce the vaccine early, so that they can deliver a certain volume of doses the day that it is authorised,” Kyriakides said. “The logic of these agreements was as valid then as it is now: we provide a de-risking investment up front in order to get a binding commitment from the company to pre-produce, even before it gets authorisation. Not being able to ensure manufacturing capacity is against the letter and the spirit of our agreement.”

In his interview, Soriot said the earlier signing of a similar deal with the UK was part of the reason why the company’s vaccine output for the country had been higher than its output for the EU. But Kyriakides said: “We reject the logic of first come, first served. That may work at the neighbourhood butcher’s, but not in contracts.”

The EU is expected to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in the bloc in the coming days.