The EU, in the form of its Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, has been very vocal about its unhappiness with AstraZeneca. After meeting AstraZeneca on Monday, 25 January, Kyriakides said the vaccine maker was unable to explain satisfactorily why it is failing to meet production targets. The EU then asked the company to produce a detailed plan on vaccine delivery and distribution by Wednesday.
After Wednesday’s meeting, Kyriakides said: “I call on AstraZeneca to engage fully, to rebuild trust, to provide complete information and to live up to its contractual, societal and moral obligations.”
Following Kyriakides’s earlier comments about unsatisfactory answers, the commissioner said the meeting on Wednesday saw a “continued lack of clarity on the delivery schedule”. She has asked for permission to release the EU’s contract with AstraZeneca, which is confidential and can only be released with permission from both parties.
This week the EU introduced extra paperwork to be filled out before vaccines made in the bloc could be moved to other countries. It says this will allow it to monitor distribution and hold companies accountable. The UK is unhappy with this, fearing it will slow down delivery of vaccines meant for its shores, which were ordered and paid for months ago in 2020.
The move follows AstraZeneca telling the EU last week that it would be delivering fewer than half of the 80 million batch of doses the union was expecting. This was a double blow after an earlier announcement by Pfizer that it needed to upgrade its factory in Belgium, during which it would slow down vaccine production.
Germany hosts a number of vaccine-manufacturing sites and is urging the European Commission to give member states the power to block exports of vaccines produced by plants in the EU. Health Minister Jens Spahn said restricting exports would lead to a fair distribution of vaccines since it would allow the tracking of how many were produced where, and where they were being sent to.
On Tuesday, AstraZeneca said it had not diverted vaccines manufactured inside Europe to outside the EU (its headquarters are in the UK) and that Britain’s vaccine supplies had come from plants inside the UK.
The Brexit dust has not quite settled but it looks like the UK and the EU have something new to spat about – Covid-19 vaccines. UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock accused the EU of “protectionism” and told the media he was confident that delivery of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, which is made in Belgium, would continue without interruption despite the EU’s clampdown on exports.
The EU is also unhappy with AstraZeneca because the bloc agreed in October 2020 to pay more than €300-million to ensure vaccine supply. Now that this is not happening on schedule, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is demanding the manufacturer delivers: “They must honour their obligations.” The EU was meant to receive a total of 100 million doses in the first quarter of 2021.
While countries like the US and the UK are speeding up vaccinations, the EU is slowing down because of a lack of doses and will probably not meet the commission’s March target of vaccinating 80% of people over the age of 80.
Vaccination rollout in the EU has all but stopped due to lack of availability. Denmark has been leading the bloc with the most efficient rollout but it too has had to slow down. Supply issues have forced the Danish authorities to revise their programme and also delay vaccines for healthcare workers. The country is in lockdown until February 7. DM