The European Commission has published its Covid-19 vaccine contract with AstraZeneca, amid disagreements over supplies to the EU.
The contract with pharma firm AstraZeneca for its Covid-19 vaccine was published several hours after European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen increased pressure on the company over its decision to cut supplies to the EU.
Vaccine supply problems
The 27-member bloc was angry after it was told that only around 31 million doses will be delivered by the end of March after it expected to receive approximately 80 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The EU warned the pharma firm that it could limit exports of Covid-19 vaccines made in the bloc.
EU’s Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said that the discussions between AstraZeneca and the EU had “resulted in dissatisfaction with the lack of clarity and insufficient explanations.”
Some of the EU nations, including Italy, have threatened to initiate legal action against the firm.
AstraZeneca chief executive officer (CEO) Pascal Soriot claimed that the delays were the result of several production issues. He said: “We believe we’ve sorted out those issues, but we are basically two months behind where we wanted to be.”
He added that they also encountered “teething issues like this in the UK supply chain,” but since the UK contract was signed three months earlier than the EU deal, the pharma firm “had an extra three months to fix all the glitches we experienced.”
Soriot assured that AstraZeneca is “working 24/7” to address the production issues to be able to make deliveries to the EU. However, he noted that the EU ordered three months later than the UK, resulting to the supply issues.
Despite the delays, Soriot highlighted that the company is still planning to deliver good bulk of the vaccines promised to the EU in February.
“But, you know, if we deliver in February what we are planning to deliver, it’s not a small volume. We are planning to deliver millions of doses to Europe, it is not small,” he assured.
The CEO added that as soon as the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gives its approval to the vaccine, “we will be shipping at least 3 million doses immediately to Europe, then we’ll have another shipment about a week later and then the third or fourth week of February. And the target is to deliver 17 million doses by February.”
“It’s not as good as we would like to, but it’s really it’s not so bad,” Soriot continued.
Reneging on commitments
Commission chief von der Leyen argued that the contract signed in August contained “binding orders”. The EU decided to publish the contract to support its claim that AstraZeneca is reneging on its commitments.
One of the main contentions between the EU and the firm is over the phrase in the contract which says “best reasonable effort”. Soriot said the company is obligated to make its “best effort” to meet EU demand, without being forced to stick to a specific timetable.
In response to this, von der Leyen said: “There are binding orders and the contract is crystal clear. ‘Best effort’ was valid while it was still unclear whether they could develop a vaccine. That time is behind us. The vaccine is there.”
“AstraZeneca has also explicitly assured us in this contract that no other obligations would prevent the contract from being fulfilled,” she added.
The Commission, following the announcement of the contract’s publication, said it welcomed AstraZeneca’s “commitment towards more transparency in its participation in the rollout of the EU Vaccines Strategy”.