Wednesday January 27, 2021
Good will, but not a solution
Conversation with Astrazeneca ends with no result
The EU relied on supplies from Astrazeneca for its vaccination campaign, but the company has lagged with production. The countries that ordered earlier are served first. A crisis discussion in the evening is constructive, but that is of little help to the EU at the moment.
What a hitch: The European Union and the pharmaceutical company Astrazeneca argue about the corona vaccine on the open stage. EU Commissioner Stella Kyriakides appealed on Wednesday to the moral responsibility of the company – which in turn defended itself against allegations. Even an online crisis discussion in the evening did not provide a solution. Large quantities of vaccine for Germany and other EU countries will therefore come weeks or months later. The protective spade could be delayed for millions of people.
"We regret that there is still no clarity about the delivery schedule and ask Astrazeneca a clear plan for the rapid delivery of the vaccines that we have reserved for the first quarter," said Health Commissioner Kyriakides after the crisis meeting with Astrazeneca on Twitter. "We will work with the company to find solutions and get the vaccines quickly to EU citizens." However, she praised the constructive tone of the conversation with company boss Pascal Soriot, who had joined in personally.
Astrazeneca said there had been a "constructive and frank discussion" about the complexity of the vaccine production increase and the difficulties. The company has agreed to work even more closely together "to jointly map out a route for the delivery of our vaccine in the coming months".
Only a fraction of the order is delivered
The dispute began on Friday with the announcement by the British-Swedish manufacturer that, following the approval of the vaccine expected for this week, it will deliver far less to the EU than promised. Figures were given by EU politicians: instead of the expected 80 million vaccine doses in the first quarter, only 31 million would come. On Wednesday an EU representative indicated that the dimension is even bigger. A "three-digit number" was expected and only a quarter of it would be delivered. The EU Commission and the 27 EU states have been putting the company under pressure for days.
The EU has a framework agreement for a total of 400 million vaccine doses from Astrazeneca. So that the funds can be delivered upon approval, the company has been promised 336 million euros to increase production. According to the EU reading, it should have produced on stockpile. Now the EU asks: where is the vaccine? At the meeting on Wednesday evening, the question was also not conclusively answered, according to the commission.
Astrazeneca boss Soriot had expressed himself on Wednesday, among other things, in an interview with "Welt" – but not to the satisfaction of the EU. Some of Soriot's arguments: The EU concluded its treaty later than the UK, where the Astrazeneca funds are already being used. In the EU, the vaccine is produced in Belgium and the Netherlands. And there, of all places, the yield in a system is very low. "We don't do that on purpose!" His team works around the clock to solve the problems.
In addition, Soriot said his company is under no contract to deliver certain quantities. Rather, they have only promised a "best effort", ie to make an effort in the best possible sense. The manager predicted that the problem could be solved in two to three months. And about the specific quantities: "As soon as we receive approval in the next few days, we will deliver three million doses. Then more every week until we are at 17 million. They are distributed according to the size of the population, for Germany about three million in a month . " That is "not so bad at all". Overall, the EU is treated fairly.
Boris Johnson holds back
All of this, in turn, outraged the EU side. There is a contract with fixed delivery schedules per quarter, and "best effort" does not mean that there is no obligation, countered Health Commissioner Kyriakides. According to EU information, four factories are specifically named in the contract, two of them in Great Britain. These would also have to be used for the EU order, ergo vaccine should be brought from Great Britain to the continent. The fact that the EU concluded its treaty later does not matter either. "We reject the 'first come, first served' logic," said Kyriakides. "That may apply to the butcher around the corner, but not to contracts."
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson does not want to get involved in this debate. It is a matter between the EU and Astrazeneca, said Johnson on Wednesday evening in London and added: "We are very confident about our supplies and our contracts." The EU Commission itself is under fire because vaccine is scarce in the EU and far fewer people have been immunized in percentage terms than in Great Britain or Israel, for example. This is partly because the funds in the EU are supposed to get market approval instead of just emergency approval – and that takes longer. So the vaccination campaign started later.
Biontech / Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are currently approved in the EU. Biontech / Pfizer also had production problems in the meantime, but only for a short time. Astrazeneca would be the third manufacturer with EU approval. The large quantities ordered should get the vaccination campaign going. But there are also question marks as to whether the vaccine will be released for the elderly. Experts from the EU drug agency EMA want to comment on Friday.