AstraZeneca’s new vaccine schedule ‘not acceptable’ to EU

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Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, stated on Monday that AstraZeneca’s new schedule in which the company’s supply of Covid-19 vaccine would fall short of expectation was unacceptable to the European Union (EU).

“Last Friday, the company AstraZeneca surprisingly informed the Commission and the European Union Member States that it intends to supply considerably fewer doses in the coming weeks than agreed and announced,” she said in a video statement.

“This new schedule is not acceptable to the European Union,” she stressed.

The commissioner wrote a letter to the company over the weekend following the announcement on Friday that it would reduce the initial supply, the Xinhua news agency reported.

AstraZeneca’s latest announcement added to the concern over delay in vaccines supply in the EU caused by a similar warning by Pfizer due to production updates.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen insisted, during her phone call with AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot on Monday morning that the company had to deliver on its contractual arrangements.

“She reminded Mr Soriot that the EU has invested significant amounts in the company upfront precisely to ensure production is ramped up even before the conditional market authorisation is delivered by the European Medicines Agency (EMA),” commission spokesman Eric Mamer told a daily briefing.

European Council President Charles Michel told a Europe 1 television programme on Sunday that the bloc intended to ensure that the contracts signed by the pharmaceutical industry are respected and legal actions at the EU’s disposal could be used.

Also on Monday, Kyriakides announced that the commission proposed to the 27 member states that an export transparency mechanism would be put in place as soon as possible.

“The European Union has supported the rapid development and production of several vaccines against Covid-19 with a total of 2.7 billion euro… in the future, all companies producing vaccines against Covid-19 in the EU will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries,” she said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen makes a statement at an extraordinary European Parliament plenary session in Brussels, Belgium, July 23, 2020. (European Union/Handout via Xinhua/IANS)

Assuring that humanitarian deliveries would not be affected, the commissioner underlined that the EU “will take any action required to protect its citizens and rights.”

Kyriakides confirmed that AstraZeneca’s vaccine could possibly be given a conditional marketing recommendation by the European Medicines Agency by the end of this week.

The EU has granted conditional marketing authorisation for two vaccines, one developed by BioNTech and Pfizer, the other by Moderna. Von der Leyen has said her commission has secured a total of 760 million doses of the two vaccines, enough to vaccinate 380 million people, or 80 per cent of the EU population.

As the world is struggling to contain the pandemic, vaccination is underway in many European countries with the already-authorised coronavirus vaccines.

Meanwhile, 237 candidate vaccines are still being developed worldwide — 64 of them in clinical trials — in countries including Germany, China, Russia, Britain and the US, according to information released by the World Health Organization on January 22.

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