AstraZeneca again fails to deliver vaccines to EU in second quarter

The pharmaceutical company reduces the 180 million doses agreed on with Brussels by less than half

3 min
One vial of the Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine

LondonAstraZeneca will again fail to comply with the agreement with the EU on the supply of vaccines against covid-19. According to Reuters on Tuesday, quoting a EU source, during the second quarter of this year 2021 the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company plans to deliver "less than 90 million doses" of the Oxford vaccine, far short of the 180 million agreed on for this period.

During the first quarter, AstraZeneca had to provide the countries of the Union with 90 million doses, but in the end it will only be able to deliver 40. In total, therefore, at the end of June the EU will have a maximum of 130 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, when 300 were supposed to have arrived.

When the first breach of AstraZeneca was known, in late January, the first figures provided by the company were only 31 million. After several meetings with the company, and pressure from the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, AstraZeneca assured that it would deliver 9 million more

However, the drastic reduction in the production of the vaccine that was to be a turning point in the fight against the pandemic, at least in Europe, as is being demonstrated in the United Kingdom, which has already immunized with a first dose to nearly 18 million people, can make virtually impossible the goal set by Brussels to reach summer with 70% of the European adult population vaccinated, a milestone that was already much more than optimistic even in the best of all possible scenarios.

Incidentally, the new obstacle will add even more pressure on the European Medicines Agency, which six days ago received the request for authorization of the Johnson & Johnson/Jansen vaccine, which with a single dose, and with transport and storage conditions that are much less complex than the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, is also seen as the other major turning point in the fight against covid.

Speaking to Reuters this afternoon, a representative of the Anglo-Swedish company said: "As we work incredibly hard to increase the productivity of our European Union supply chain, and do everything we can to make use of our global supply chain, we expect that our deliveries can be close to what the advance purchase agreement says". In no case, however, has he commented on specific figures.

European Commission sources also refuse to talk about specific figures.

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AstraZeneca's new breach may increase the tension between the European Commission and the company to unbearable extremes, after the first clash was saved by the company's commitment to do its best to increase production in its European plants and in the other plants with which it has signed collaboration agreements around the world.

In addition, it may bring back to the table the need to use the production of the UK facilities, an episode that triggered the tension between London and Brussels when the European Commission imposed controls on exports of vaccines from the territory of the 27 to a third country, and even threatened, in a very clumsy way, to establish a border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to control the possible traffic of vials.

Be that as it may, the contract between AstraZeneca and the Commission that was made public on 29 January, and although it was censored, it made explicit that the company was committed to using UK plants to supply the European Union in case of need. This was one of the Union's counter-arguments to the problems of underperformance of the Belgian and German plants. Hours before publication, however, in an interview with five European newspapers, the company argued that its obligation was to make "the best reasonable effort" to ensure that the agreement was not breached.

Whatever happens in the coming hours, and when the European Union has only vaccinated, for the moment, 27 million people, the relationship between AstraZeneca and the European Commission can already be considered an unmitigated political and commercial failure. A failure also surrounded by the secrecy with which the contracts were signed, which has raised more than a few direct criticisms of President Von der Leyen, and which may have serious consequences in the medium term for the internal cohesion of the bloc.

Even more so when there is a member country, Hungary, which apart from the joint contract through the Commission, has signed another one with Russia to supply itself with Sputnik V, a vaccine that is already being used, with success, both in Africa and in different countries of South America. The vaccine war is experiencing another episode.