EU seeks supply answers from AstraZeneca

The European Union has urged drug developer AstraZeneca on Monday (January 25) to find ways to swiftly deliver COVID-19 vaccines, after the company unexpectedly announced a large cut in supplies to the bloc during the first quarter of the year.

AstraZeneca told the EU on Friday (January 22) it could not meet agreed supply targets to the end of March, with an EU official involved in the talks telling Reuters that meant a 60% cut to 31 million doses.

The complications stem from supply chain issues within a proposed manufacturing site in Belgium, run by AstraZeneca's partner Novasep.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker received an up-front payment of 336 million euros from the EU for at least 300 million doses, according to three EU officials speaking to Reuters.

Eric Mamer is the EU Commission’s Chief Spokesman.

"The (European Commission) President (Ursula von der Leyen) spoke to the CEO of AstraZeneca this morning by phone, Mr. Pascal Soriot, and she made it clear that she expects AstraZeneca to deliver on the contractual arrangements foreseen in the advance purchasing agreement."

AstraZeneca’s CEO Pascal Soriot explained how complicated the situation was from their point of view, when speaking at the World Economic Forum on Monday.

"We should remember that what we are trying to do collectively here has never been done in the history of the world, to develop a vaccine, or several vaccines in this instance, in a year. And then scale up to billions of doses when we know today the biggest manufacturer has only got a capacity of a billion doses per year across all their vaccines. So it's a huge undertaking that has only been possible because we've collaborated."

EU contracts with vaccine makers are confidential, but an EU official did not rule out penalties for AstraZeneca, given the large revision to its commitments.

This marks the latest vaccine-related frustration for the EU.

The version developed by Pfizer is currently the most used across the bloc, but earlier in January it also announced a delay in its supply.

AstraZeneca's vaccine is expected to be approved for use in the EU on January 29, with first deliveries expected from the middle of next month.