Monday

10th May 2021

EU-AstraZeneca row flares up after vaccines shortfall

  • For the contract with AstraZeneca, the European Commission has allocated €336m - although not all of it has been paid yet (Photo: Cheshire East Council)

The EU's standoff with vaccine-manufacturer AstraZeneca has intensified, after the company's CEO said the contract signed with the European Commission is on a "best-effort" basis - meaning that there is no legal obligation to fulfil the order set up by the EU for the first quarter.

In response, the EU is urging AstraZeneca to make their vaccine contract public in order to "open the debate," arguing that confidentiality clauses of the contract forbid them to talk about the issues in detail.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"Pharmaceutical companies and vaccine developers have moral, societal and contractual responsibilities which they need to uphold. We lost people every day, these are not statistics, are people with families," said EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides on Wednesday (27 January).

"The view that the company is not obliged to deliver because we signed a 'best-effort agreement' is neither correct nor it is acceptable," she added.

Another layer of tension was added to the row when a commission spokesperson said on Wednesday that AstraZeneca had pulled out of a meeting scheduled later that day - at the same time that the company was denying the statement.

This follows several days of back and forth, with phone calls and meetings, previously described by Kyriakides as unsatisfactory due to the "the lack of clarity" over delayed deliveries.

The UK first?

Last week, AstraZeneca suddenly announced that the number of initial doses for member states ordered for the first quarter of 2021 would be lower due to "reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain".

However, in an interview published on Tuesday night, the company's CEO Pascal Soriot said that the factories of the UK were producing a much higher yield because they signed an agreement much earlier.

"We have had also teething issues in the UK supply chain …[but] with the UK we have had an extra three months to fix all the glitches we experienced," Soriot said.

However, according to the commission, the contract with AstraZeneca foresees manufacturing in four separate plants in Europe - two in the UK, one in Belgium and one in Germany.

"The UK factories are part of our advanced purchase agreement, this is why they [AstraZeneca] have to deliver," Kyriakides said, referring to the fact that the EU expects to receive doses produced in such plants.

"In our contract, it is not specified that any country, [including] the UK, is prioritised because it has signed an earlier agreement," she added.

"First-come, first-served approach may work at neighbourhood butcher but not in contracts," she also said.

Moreover, EU officials also said that differentiating the UK and EU supply chains "does not correspond to what is in our contract".

The vaccine jointly developed by Oxford and AstraZeneca is expected to be approved on Friday (29 January) by the European Medicine Agency.

'Customs data do not lie'

The commission has so far refused to clarify how significant this shortfall would be, but Reuters has reported that deliveries would be cut to 31 million doses - a reduction of 60 percent.

"It is unacceptable that a three digits figure [ie hundreds of millions] is reduced to a quarter," a commission official said.

For the contract with AstraZeneca, the European Commission has allocated €336m - although part of the funding has not been paid yet.

Meanwhile, the commission has proposed setting up an "export transparency mechanism" which would require companies, with whom the EU has signed agreements, to inform in advance about any international shipments - a move perceived as a sign of distrust towards the pharmaceutical companies.

"The customs data do not lie. Which company? Which vaccine? I do not know, but I can see that vaccines from Europe were shipped to many countries," an EU official said.

The proposal for this transparency mechanism is expected to be unveiled on Friday.

EU to control vaccine exports in row over delays

The European Commission wants to control exports of coronavirus vaccines to outside the bloc, after pharmaceutical firms said EU countries will receive fewer jabs than they ordered due to alleged production problems.

EU leaders to discuss vaccine certificates

While some member states hope vaccine certificates could revive tourism, EU officials point out that it is not clear if vaccinated people can still carry the virus and infect others.

Analysis

The EU's vaccine strategy - the key points

As the EU Commission gets entangled in a dispute with one of the vaccine producers and gets heat for the perceived slow roll-out of the vaccines, we take a look at what the EU has done and not done.

News in Brief

  1. Lukashenko amends emergency transfer of power
  2. German centre-left picks Scholz as would-be chancellor
  3. EU has not ordered AstraZeneca vaccines beyond June
  4. Macron: Pandemic showed need for more EU integration
  5. Election win fuels Scottish nationalists' referendum plan
  6. Surge in migrant arrivals to Italian island
  7. EU embassy pays bail for Georgia opposition leader
  8. British aristocrats caught peddling Kremlin ties

Conservatives' Covid-strategy wins in lockdown-fatigue Madrid

Madrid conservative leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso has become a political phenomenon mainly because of her success in keeping Madrid open during the worst moments of the pandemic. However, critics accuse her of neglecting health services - while only protecting businesses.

Column

The EU needs a global vaccination strategy - right now

The further the vaccination campaign progresses, the more people will ask: what about the rest of the world? The EU should answer the question loud and clear now before it is drowned out by a rising chorus of criticism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. EU and US urge Israel to defuse Jerusalem violence
  2. Frontex 'mislabelling minors as adults' on Greek islands
  3. Has Albania really met the 15 tests to join the EU? No
  4. Vaccine fairness plus Russia on table This WEEK
  5. EU ambassadors flock to Red Square for Putin's parade
  6. MEPs win battle for bigger citizens' voice at Conference
  7. Hungary gags EU ministers on China
  8. Poland and Hungary push back on 'gender equality' pre-summit

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us