European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen demanded that AstraZeneca Plc fulfill its contractual obligations for the coronavirus vaccine as the mounting shortage crisis forces countries to slow delivery of shots.
Von der Leyen said Astra’s deal with the bloc should be made public to provide transparency and give the EU planning security for its vaccine campaign. The dispute over deliveries was triggered by Astra’s decision to prioritize Britain over the EU following a Belgian production glitch, in what Brussels claims is a breach of terms.
“What irritated us was that, unlike the other companies, AstraZeneca very suddenly announced that it was drastically reducing its agreed deliveries for the first quarter and did not provide understandable reasons why,” von der Leyen said Friday in an interview with Germany’s DLF radio. “Now we want clarity on that.”
As the EU struggles to resolve the situation, governments across the bloc are dealing with the fallout. Madrid’s regional administration is halting vaccinations for at least two weeks after receiving less doses than expected, and Ireland has cautioned that its first-quarter target will depend on Astra deliveries.
Italy has slowed its rollout, blaming Pfizer Inc. for sending fewer doses than expected in recent weeks. The campaign for the elderly will be delayed by about four weeks, and by six to eight weeks for the rest of the population, according to acting deputy health minister Pierpaolo Sileri.
The EU is preparing to escalate its response, and will announce tighter restrictions on the export of Covid-19 vaccines on Friday. That’s aimed at helping the bloc accelerate an inoculation pace that’s so far proved embarrassingly slow.
Astra Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot has pledged that the company will deliver more vaccine to EU member states as early as February, Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported Thursday.
The commission signed an advance purchase agreement with Astra for as many as 400 million Covid-19 vaccine doses — part of a total 2.3 billion secured for the EU. The Astra jab is expected get the green light from the European Medicines Agency later on Friday following the bloc’s approval of vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc.
“It’s perfectly understandable that they had difficulties at the start, that was the same with all the companies,” von der Leyen said on DLF. “That’s fine, but what we want is a plausible explanation of why these problems are there and then we’ll work together to solve them. There are binding orders and the contract is crystal clear.”
Von der Leyen will hold a video conference with the CEOs of Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers on Sunday afternoon, Politico reported Friday, citing a list of confirmed participants.
The EU’s planned new export regulations will require companies to obtain prior authorization before shipping doses outside the bloc.
That will allow EU states to block exports if a set of pre-defined criteria haven’t been met, according to officials in Brussels. The main condition will be that companies have already delivered a sufficient number of dosages to EU members, as set out in purchase agreements.
European Council President Charles Michel raised the prospect of effectively seizing control of vaccine production if the commission’s measures fail to get the inoculation program back on track.
The bloc’s Covid-19 vaccine push started at the end of December, several weeks after the U.S. and Britain. As of Friday, 2.5 doses had been administered per 100 people in the EU, compared with 8.3 in the U.S. and 11.9 in the U.K., according to data compiled by Bloomberg.