AstraZeneca vaccine: new shipping delays in the EU

Published by Laurent P. · Published on March 15th, 2021 at 09:28 a.m.
This Saturday March 13, AstraZeneca laboratory announced new delivery delays to the EU, speaking about exportation restrictions caused by the non-EU production choice to deliver doses secured by the 27. This Thursday March 11, Health Minister Olivier Véran already announced a three-week delay in deliveries.

There is still a conflict going on bewteen the European Union and AstraZeneca when it comes to Covid vaccine delivery delays... This Saturday March 13, the Swedish-British laboratory announced new delays in deliveries of vaccine to EU countries because of "exportation restrictions". The laboratory is facing vaccine production issues that made them use non EU factories to try and comply with their commitment with Brussels. Deliveries already compromised in the first quarter and likely the second as well, AstraZeneca spokesperson said.

This Thursday March 11 already, French Health Minister Olivier Véran announced France - and the EU - will get very few doses in the coming three weeks as the laboratory is shutting down vaccine shipments, even though an agreement have been made with Brussels. Yet, no details was given on the reason of this delay, excluding the explanation given this Saturday by the laboratory or another reason not explained here.

"I see drugmaker AstraZeneca is cutting vaccine deliveries secured week by week and for which we had an agreement", the Health Minister explained. He went on: "therefore, next week, we'll have few doses, the week after, we'll have few doses and we fear the week after that we'll have few doses as well". He concluded: "We are working on the EU level: all European governments are working to make AstraZeneca able to delivery vaccines as they committed to".

A predictable twist in the "war" between AstraZeneca and the European Union... This Monday February 1, Brussels announced they are to get away from the British laboratory as they would rather work with the competition (Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson) as for vaccine supply in Europe. A decision following delays announced by AstraZeneca on the delivery of their product. The delay in deliveries (25% of doses promised to date) that causes a "real issue" European Commission's Deputy-Director General for Health Sandra Gallina says.

She goes on, saying that as part of the agreement signed by both parties "we can either receive the products or (get reimbursed) for the amounts we have paid". She also told the laboratory: "I don’t have the vaccine, you don’t have the payment from the Commission."

A commercial war that is seriously lasting

To sum up this "argument", British laboratory AstraZeneca announced on Friday January 22 they are unable to deliver all doses negotiated with Brussels because of “reduced yields. […] While there is no scheduled delay to the start of shipments of our vaccine should we receive approval in Europe, initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated due to reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chainAstraZeneca spokesperson tells AFP.

All in all, deliveries will be lower: “We will be supplying tens of millions of doses in February and March to the European Union, as we continue to ramp up production volumes”, the laboratory representative says. According to Reuters, this reduction could reach 60% of doses secured in the first quarter of the year, for a total of 31 million doses instead of the 80 million doses expected in the EU.

Is the UK favored?

In the meantime, Brussels sees red! The European Commission has accused the laboratory of prefering the United-Kingdom in the delivery of vaccine, even explaining that doses expected for the European Union have been sold to the highest bider, demanding the laboratory to be more transparent on their production and delivery of their products. News denied by AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot who explained, on Tuesday January 16 to Le Figaro that the laboratory "certainly does not take vaccines from Europeans to sell them elsewhere at a profit". Brussels even went further, demanding the contract signed with the EU - yet protected by commercial secrecy - to be published.

As for AstraZeneca, they say that it has never been about delivering 80 million doses by late March in the European territory, adding they have not commited to deliver vaccines quick sharp, without giving numbers. The "contract is very clear: Our commitment is, I am quoting, ‘our best effort" Soriot reminds.

The laboratory said to be lying, the contract is released

But the European Commission does not relinquish. They refute many elements in this interview, including the idea that the production in the British factories is only reserved for shipping in the UK. They say the contract envisages addition production capacity. So that in the event there is a problem in a factory in Belgium, the EU can have recourse to other factories in Europe or in the UK.

This January 29, Brussels has taken action and released most of the contract signed with the laboratory (some aspects have been took off because of non-disclosure secrecy, to download here).  "Through the contract, all Member States are able to purchase 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, with an option for a further 100 million doses, to be distributed on a population-based prorata basis" it reads, adding the European Union can order 100 million extra doses.

"The “best-effort” clause was only valid as long as it was not clear whether AstraZeneca could develop a vaccine" European Commission president Ursula Von Der Leyen said, adding "commitments with other buyers should not affect the order in which supplies are delivered." The contract also states the production of the vaccine for the European Union has to be completed in four factories: two in the United-Kingdom, two in Europe, which has been denied by AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot, explaining that vaccines produced in the U.K. are exclusively reserved for the country.

Same thing for Secretary of State Michael Gove who categorically denies sharing the production of its factories with the European Union. He told BBC that vaccines manufactured and paid in the UK will go as planned. He added it "remains our priority to vaccinate the most vulnerable across the UK". But AstraZeneca is a private company and a contract has been signed, stating that both British manufactures have to deliver vaccine doses to the EU, the European Commission explains.

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