EU fighting with AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech after slow deliveries of shots hamper vaccine rollout in several nations

Coronavirus: AstraZeneca admits huge vaccine shortfall for EU

EU fighting with AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech after slow deliveries of shots hamper vaccine rollout in several nations

Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca will deliver to the EU less than half the amount of COVID-19 vaccine doses that it pledged for the first quarter of 2021, company boss Pascal Soriot admitted to European lawmakers on Thursday.

The drugmaker has long said it will not be able to fulfill its target, but the confirmation remains a blow to the EU's vaccine rollout.

The bloc has fallen far behind the United States, Britain and Israel in vaccinating its public, blaming supply chain issues. About 8% of the adult population of the EU have been vaccinated, according to European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen.

AstraZeneca will now try and deliver 40 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March, down from an initial 90 million.

The pledge is in line with previous statements from the company.

On Wednesday, AstraZeneca said it would only be able to deliver half the COVID-19 vaccines it was contracted to supply the EU in the second quarter of 2021.

The EU has repeatedly urged the firm to deliver more.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot came under fire for his company's performance

What's going wrong at AstraZeneca?

Lower-than-expected yields — the amount of vaccine that can be produced from base ingredients — at its factories hurt output in the first three months, Soriot told EU lawmakers.

They discussed the bloc's slow vaccine roll out as part of coronavirus talks held via videoconference on Thursday.

“We are working 24/7 to improve delivery and hopefully catch up to the expectations for Q2,” Soriot said.

The company plans on upping production by using factories outside the EU that had no production problems, including in the United States.

Soriot did not mention the 180 million target set for the second quarter.

Media reports have suggested that second-quarter deliveries would be slashed to 90 million doses.

Drug companies struggle to meet EU orders

In addition to AstraZeneca's CEO, the executives from Moderna Inc and CureVac NV also participated in the panel.

Moderna Chief Executive Officer Stephane Bancel said the company has experienced fluctuations as it increases production of its COVID-19 vaccination.

He said usually a company would stockpile product ahead of a launch, but it is shipping every dose it makes, leaving it without any spare inventory.

  • From Sweden to Cyprus, Lithuania to Italy, the push to get people their first shots is now under way, 11 months after the first cases were reported in Europe. EU leaders have dubbed the launch of the drive “V-Day,” a moment of unity in a pandemic that has killed more than 1.7 million people worldwide.
  • Edith Kwoizalla, aged 101, was one of the first Germans to be vaccinated. She took the first of two doses at a care home in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt on Saturday, a day before the official launch. German Health Minister Jens Spahn said he expected 1.3 million doses to be delivered by the end of the year, with double that number by the end of January.
  • The vaccine, developed partly by a German firm, has been snapped up by governments around the world. BioNTech has “scientific confidence” that its coronavirus vaccine will also work on the new variant detected in the UK, company CEO Ugur Sahin told DW. The proteins on the mutated form of the virus were 99% the same as the prevailing virus, he said.
  • Hungary began vaccinating health care workers on Saturday, a day ahead of the EU's planned start date. Hungary has recorded over 316,000 cases and more than 9,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
  • A Warsaw paramedic was one of the first people to receive the vaccine in Poland on Sunday. The first batch of 10,000 doses was transported from Pfizer's facility in Belgium to a warehouse in central Poland a day earlier. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called the launch “a great step in fighting the epidemic.”
  • EU leaders and scientists have gone to great lengths to insist the vaccine is safe. In the Czech Republic, Prime Minister Andrej Babis (seen here) was at the head of the line for his vaccination on Sunday. In Vienna, three women and two men over the age of 80 got the vaccine in the presence of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
  • Sweden, which has received praise and criticism for its looser handling of the pandemic, is expecting an initial batch of 10,000 shots, along with Norway. Denmark expects to have enough shots to initially vaccinate 40,000 people in care homes, followed by health care staff and those people with a high risk of illness. Iceland will receive 10,000 doses early in January.
  • An 84-year-old man became the first patient to receive the coronavirus vaccine in Cyprus. While Europe has some of the best-resourced health care systems in the world, the sheer scale of the effort means some countries are calling on retired medics to help. Other countries have loosened rules for who is allowed to give the injections.
  • A health care worker at the Hospital Favoriten in Vienna was one of the first in line to receive the vaccine. Austria is rolling the vaccine out through a three-stage program, starting with health care workers and people over the age of 65. Austria has recorded over 350,000 cases and more than 5,800 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
  • Mauricette, a 78-year-old French woman, was the first person to receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the Rene-Muret hospital in Sevran, on the outskirts of Paris. France is aiming to vaccinate the first million people by the end of February. The country has been one of the hardest hit in Europe, with over 2.6 million recorded cases and nearly 63,000 deaths.
  • Italy began distributing the first batch of 10,000 shots on Sunday at the Niguarda hospital in Milan (seen here). In Rome, a 29-year-old nurse was the first to receive the jab at Rome's Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases. Health workers were first in line, with those over 80 to follow.
  • The first phase of Portugal's vaccine rollout aims to inoculate 10% of the population, with front-line workers and those over 50 with preexisting conditions taking priority. Here, a medical worker receives the vaccine at Santa Maria hospital in Lisbon.
  • Spain is set to receive 350,000 doses from Pfizer-BioNTech per week, with a total of nearly 4.6 million to be delivered over the next three months. The government has said it aims to vaccinate between 15 million and 20 million people in the first half of 2021. Here, a 72-year-old receives the first injection at the Vallecas nursing home in Madrid.

The EU could approve more vaccines

The European Commission has secured around 2 billion vaccine shots from several companies. But so far only three have been authorized: those from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

Officials say the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could be approved next month.

kmm/aw (Reuters, AP)


Covid-19 roundup: Pfizer/BioNTech release real-world evidence of vaccine efficacy; EMA gives J&J shot thumbs up

EU fighting with AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech after slow deliveries of shots hamper vaccine rollout in several nations

With their Covid-19 vac­cine hav­ing been au­tho­rized for rough­ly three months, Pfiz­er and BioN­Tech have re­leased a look in­to some re­al-world ev­i­dence re­gard­ing the shot’s ef­fec­tive­ness in Is­rael.

Ac­cord­ing to their analy­sis, the vac­cine was at least 97% in pre­vent­ing symp­to­matic dis­ease, hos­pi­tal­iza­tions and death, as well as 94% against asymp­to­matic in­fec­tions, Pfiz­er said in a re­lease Thurs­day morn­ing. The pair looked at da­ta col­lect­ed be­tween Jan. 17 and March 6, when their shot was the on­ly vac­cine au­tho­rized in the coun­try and the coro­n­avirus vari­ant that first emerged in the UK was the dom­i­nant strain.

“The find­ings which sug­gest that the vac­cine may al­so pro­vide pro­tec­tion against asymp­to­matic SARS-CoV-2 in­fec­tions are par­tic­u­lar­ly mean­ing­ful,” Pfiz­er Vac­cines CMO Luis Jo­dar said in a state­ment.

In the sev­en-week analy­sis pe­ri­od, the UK strain made up 80% of test­ed spec­i­mens. Is­rael’s min­istry of health was not able to de­ter­mine ef­fec­tive­ness against the South Africa vari­ant, how­ev­er, as it made up on­ly a lim­it­ed num­ber of cas­es dur­ing the same time­frame.

Ad­di­tion­al­ly, the com­pa­nies not­ed that vac­cine ef­fec­tive­ness was mea­sured two weeks af­ter in­di­vid­u­als re­ceived their sec­ond dos­es. Full re­sults will be pub­lished in a sci­en­tif­ic jour­nal at a lat­er date.

While Pfiz­er and BioN­Tech not­ed that the da­ta align with their Phase III tri­al, which de­ter­mined a 95% ef­fi­ca­cy rate, they cau­tioned that the ob­ser­va­tion­al da­ta col­lect­ed in this study dif­fer from those col­lect­ed in a clin­i­cal set­ting. There re­mains a pos­si­bil­i­ty of “un­mea­sured dis­tor­tions,” they said, not­ing that the Is­raeli health min­istry has in­di­cat­ed “neigh­bor­hood” may be a fac­tor in the re­sults.

Thurs­day’s study comes a cou­ple of weeks af­ter Is­rael’s Clalit Re­search In­sti­tute re­leased peer-re­viewed, re­al-world da­ta sug­gest­ing the Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech vac­cine cut symp­to­matic Covid-19 cas­es by 94% across all age groups and se­vere cas­es by al­most as much. — Max Gel­man

EMA rec­om­mends J&J vac­cine for au­tho­riza­tion in EU

Just a cou­ple weeks af­ter be­ing au­tho­rized in the US, the J&J vac­cine is get­ting prepped for an OK in Eu­rope.

The EMA has for­mal­ly rec­om­mend­ed that the one-shot vac­cine be au­tho­rized in the Eu­ro­pean Union, the agency said Thurs­day. The de­ci­sion now heads to the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion, which has fi­nal say on all EMA-rec­om­mend­ed ther­a­pies, where it will ­ly ob­tain the green light.

J&J’s vac­cine would be­come the fourth Covid-19 jab au­tho­rized on the con­ti­nent, join­ing the Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech, As­traZeneca/Ox­ford and Mod­er­na vac­cines.

Eu­ro­pean reg­u­la­tors cit­ed J&J’s Phase III study as the ba­sis for its rec­om­men­da­tion, not­ing that the vac­cine’s ef­fi­ca­cy across the US, South Africa and Latin Amer­i­can hit 67% in symp­to­matic case re­duc­tion. The J&J shot was al­so the first of the US-au­tho­rized vac­cines to demon­strate tri­al-backed ef­fi­ca­cy against the coro­n­avirus vari­ant that first emerged in South Africa, hit­ting 55% against the strain.

Be­fore and af­ter gain­ing au­tho­riza­tion in the US, J&J has been get­ting things mov­ing on the pro­duc­tion side, an eas­i­er feat than its mR­NA ri­vals due to the vac­cine tech­nol­o­gy’s sim­i­lar­i­ty to sea­son­al flu shots and eas­i­er stor­age re­quire­ments. In late Jan­u­ary, J&J said it ex­pect­ed to have 100 mil­lion dos­es for the US in the first half of 2021.

But last week in an un­usu­al col­lab­o­ra­tion, J&J teamed up with Mer­ck to vast­ly boost its vac­cine pro­duc­tion. No­tably, Mer­ck came up short in the Covid-19 vac­cine race, drop­ping de­vel­op­ment of two vac­cines in late Jan­u­ary af­ter Phase I da­ta did not im­press. — Max Gel­man

Nor­way joins grow­ing cho­rus of EU na­tions halt­ing As­traZeneca roll­out in wake of blood clot re­ports

On the heels of some Eu­ro­pean Union mem­bers re­fus­ing to al­low the As­traZeneca/Ox­ford Uni­ver­si­ty vac­cine to leave their shores last week, oth­ers are now halt­ing dis­tri­b­u­tion of the shot due to re­ports of blood clots.

Den­mark and Aus­tria tem­porar­i­ly sus­pend­ed roll­ the vac­cine on Wednes­day af­ter an in­di­vid­ual was di­ag­nosed with blood clots and died 10 days af­ter re­ceiv­ing the shot, while an­oth­er is re­cov­er­ing in the hos­pi­tal from a pul­monary em­bolism. And ear­ly Thurs­day, Nor­way joined the grow­ing list of coun­tries paus­ing their As­traZeneca vac­cine roll­out pro­grams, Reuters re­port­ed.

The EMA is cur­rent­ly re­view­ing the cas­es, and said in a state­ment that there’s cur­rent­ly no in­di­ca­tion that the vac­cines caused the events.

“The in­for­ma­tion avail­able so far in­di­cates that the num­ber of throm­boem­bol­ic events in vac­ci­nat­ed peo­ple is no high­er than that seen in the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion,” the EMA’s safe­ty com­mit­tee PRAC said in a state­ment Wednes­day.

Blood clots are not list­ed as a side ef­fect for the vac­cine, PRAC added.

Dan­ish and Aus­tri­an au­thor­i­ties have said they are tak­ing these steps an abun­dance of cau­tion. The vac­cine’s use in Den­mark will be paused for 14 days.

The is­sue, the EMA says, po­ten­tial­ly deals with a spe­cif­ic batch of As­traZeneca vac­cine that was shipped to 17 EU coun­tries and con­tained 1 mil­lion shots. In ad­di­tion to Aus­tria and Den­mark, four oth­er na­tions have cur­tailed ad­min­is­tra­tion as of Tues­day: Es­to­nia, Lithua­nia, Lux­em­bourg and Latvia.

Though the EMA has said a qual­i­ty de­fect is “un­­ly,” the batch is be­ing in­ves­ti­gat­ed.

News of the sus­pen­sions comes as As­traZeneca has run in­to hic­cups across the con­ti­nent try­ing to dis­trib­ute its vac­cine, cre­at­ed in con­junc­tion with Ox­ford Uni­ver­si­ty.

Last week, Italy pre­vent­ed a vac­cine ship­ment des­tined for Aus­tralia from leav­ing its bor­ders, mark­ing the first in­stance of an EU na­tion tak­ing ad­van­tage of new rules gov­ern­ing such ship­ments out­side the bloc that were im­ple­ment­ed in late Jan­u­ary.

The drug­mak­er has al­so seen slow up­take around the world af­ter fight­ing with the EU pub­licly over the dos­es promised in its con­tracts. And some peo­ple in Eu­ro­pean coun­tries are re­port­ed­ly shun­ning the vac­cine in fa­vor of mR­NA-based shots with high­er topline ef­fi­ca­cy lev­els. — Max Gel­man

Mod­er­na be­gins test­ing mod­i­fied vac­cine boost­ers

In a ma­jor step to­ward bat­tling vari­ants of the coro­n­avirus, Mod­er­na has dosed the first vol­un­teers with mod­i­fied boost­er vac­cine can­di­dates.

Two dif­fer­ent ex­per­i­men­tal vac­cines are be­ing test­ed: mR­NA-1273.351 en­codes for the spike pro­tein of B.1.351, com­mon­ly called the South Africa vari­ant of SARS-CoV-2; mR­NA-1273.

211 is a mul­ti­va­lent shot com­bin­ing that and the orig­i­nal, au­tho­rized vac­cine against what Mod­er­na calls an­ces­tral strains.

The tri­al will en­roll 60 par­tic­i­pants who have al­ready com­plet­ed a two-dose mR­NA-1273 reg­i­men in pre­vi­ous stud­ies, and each will re­ceive one ex­tra dose.

It’s all part of CEO Stéphane Ban­cel’s big plan to dou­ble down on the pan­dem­ic fight, scal­ing up pro­duc­tion and keep­ing up with new re­search to stay in the lead cre­at­ed by the so far su­pe­ri­or per­for­mance of their mR­NA tech.

A year ago, Mod­er­na did­n't have an ap­proved prod­uct. To­day @CD­C­gov re­ports the com­pa­ny has sup­plied more Covid-19 vac­cines to the U.S. than any­one else. pic.twit­

— Jonathan Rock­off (@jonathanrock­off) March 10, 2021

With­in the mR­NA-1273.351 group, in­ves­ti­ga­tors will be giv­ing 20 vol­un­teers a low­er, 20µg dose while an­oth­er 20 will re­ceive 50µg. For mR­NA-1273.211, on­ly 50µg will be test­ed.

These mod­i­fied boost­er shots will be eval­u­at­ed in par­al­lel with a 50µg dose of mR­NA-1273 of­fered to Phase II study par­tic­i­pants. While lab stud­ies sug­gest the orig­i­nal vac­cine can kick up a strong an­ti­body re­sponse against new vari­ants, Mod­er­na not­ed they are run­ning the new stud­ies “ an abun­dance of cau­tion.”

The NI­AID, with whom Mod­er­na has been part­nered from the start, is al­so plan­ning a Phase I tri­al to ac­cess the two mod­i­fied vac­cines in peo­ple who have nev­er been vac­ci­nat­ed.

As it en­ters a new era as a com­mer­cial biotech, Mod­er­na says it’s al­so re­in­stalling Bet­sy Nabel on the board of di­rec­tors.

Nabel, who un­til ear­li­er this month was pres­i­dent of Brigham Health, re­signed from the board af­ter Brigham and Women’s Hos­pi­tal was se­lect­ed as a clin­i­cal site in the Phase III tri­al that ul­ti­mate­ly showed Mod­er­na’s vac­cine 95% ef­fec­tive and ce­ment­ed its emer­gency use around the world.

She’s since left her aca­d­e­m­ic and hos­pi­tal po­si­tions to join a biotech up­start launched by her hus­band, ex-Sanofi CSO Gary Nabel. — Am­ber Tong

High-in­come na­tions block patent pro­tec­tion waiv­er cham­pi­oned by de­vel­op­ing coun­tries

Low- and mid­dle-in­come coun­tries have been push­ing the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion to scrap patent pro­tec­tions for Covid-19 vac­cines, claim­ing that re­mov­ing the IP rights will speed up dis­tri­b­u­tion in their coun­tries. But on Wednes­day, they ran in­to a stum­bling block: the Unit­ed States.

Wealthy na­tions the US, Britain and Switzer­land, as well as sev­er­al EU mem­bers, blocked a pro­pos­al by more than 80 de­vel­op­ing coun­tries that would waive patent rights for the shots, Reuters re­port­ed.

The move, first pro­posed by South Africa and In­dia, would have sus­pend­ed cer­tain rules with­in the TRIPS agree­ment, which es­tab­lish­es a base­line for how WTO mem­bers can in­ter­act with each oth­er’s in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty. Had it passed, it could have al­lowed gener­ic drug­mak­ers to start mak­ing vac­cines and oth­er ther­a­pies.

Rich­er na­tions have ar­gued that strip­ping phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies of their in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty would ham­per the in­no­va­tion that helped lead to the vac­cines and wouldn’t speed up man­u­fac­tur­ing.

And last week, lob­by­ing groups BIO and PhRMA both sent let­ters to the Biden ad­min­is­tra­tion urg­ing the pres­i­dent to block the move. The PhRMA let­ter was co-signed by 30 promi­nent phar­ma ex­ec­u­tives, in­clud­ing Pfiz­er’s Al­bert Bourla, Eli Lil­ly’s David Ricks and No­var­tis’ Vas Narasimhan.

Wednes­day’s move was the eighth time the South Africa-In­dia pro­pos­al has been brought up for dis­cus­sion since the pro­pos­al was first raised in Oc­to­ber, Reuters said. There are plans to con­tin­ue talk­ing about some form be­fore the next TRIPS coun­cil meet­ing in June.

Among those push­ing for the re­moval of patent pro­tec­tions is the hu­man­i­tar­i­an group Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders, which pub­lished a state­ment Tues­day slam­ming wealthy na­tions for their op­po­si­tion to the waiv­er.

“Coun­tries must stop ob­struct­ing and show the lead­er­ship re­quired to de­liv­er on the ‘glob­al sol­i­dar­i­ty’ they have so of­ten de­clared dur­ing this pan­dem­ic,” in­ter­na­tion­al pres­i­dent Chris­tos Chris­tou wrote. “It’s time to cham­pi­on ac­cess to med­ical tools for every­one, wher­ev­er they live.” — Max Gel­man

EMA starts rolling re­view of Eli Lil­ly’s an­ti­body com­bo

Just a day af­ter Eli Lil­ly de­tailed pos­i­tive da­ta be­hind its Covid-19 an­ti­body com­bo, the EMA says it’s start­ed a rolling re­view for the bam­lanivimab/ete­se­vimab cock­tail as well as bam­lanivimab monother­a­py.

Both us­es have al­ready been cleared by the FDA un­der emer­gency use au­tho­riza­tions.

The Eu­ro­pean reg­u­la­tors say they will start from an­i­mal da­ta and con­tin­ue un­til there’s enough ev­i­dence to sup­port mar­ket­ing au­tho­riza­tion ap­pli­ca­tions.

In the lat­est analy­sis, Eli Lil­ly re­port­ed that giv­ing non-hos­pi­tal­ized pa­tients 700 mg of Ab­Cellera-de­vel­oped bam­lanivimab and 1400mg of Jun­shi-in­vent­ed ete­se­vimab re­duced the risk of hos­pi­tal­iza­tion of death by 87%, top­ping the 70% mark tracked ear­li­er. Among 769 pa­tients, re­searchers count­ed 4 events in the com­bo arm and 15 in the place­bo group. — Am­ber Tong

For a look at all End­points News coro­n­avirus sto­ries, check out our spe­cial news chan­nel.


The EU-AstraZeneca vaccine fight, explained

EU fighting with AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech after slow deliveries of shots hamper vaccine rollout in several nations
People line up to receive the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine outside a closed department store in Folkestone, UK, on January 27.

Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty Images

A spat between the European Union and the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is threatening to hamper global vaccine efforts, and is raising tensions on the continent as European countries struggle to vaccinate their populations amid the threat of new, more virulent strains of the coronavirus.

The EU purchased 400 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the company made in partnership with Oxford University, in advance of it being approved by EU regulators.

But last week, AstraZeneca abruptly announced that due to production issues it would only be able to deliver about 31 million doses to the EU, or about 40 percent of the roughly 80 million doses promised in the first quarter.

That, of course, angered EU leaders, who are desperately trying to inoculate their populations.

Reuters reported Friday that the company agreed to throw in another 8 million more doses — but the EU says that’s not good enough and is demanding AstraZeneca do more, including using its plants in the United Kingdom to make up the shortfall.

AstraZeneca says it can’t do that, and that its contract with the EU (a heavily redacted version of which was published Friday) requires only that it make the “best effort” to deliver the vaccines to Europe. The problem is that the EU and AstraZeneca disagree on what “best effort” actually means.

And now the fight is threatening to spill over, with alarming implications for the global vaccination effort.

On Friday, the European Union approved the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. But it also took the dramatic step of putting export controls on all coronavirus vaccines.

The final regulation is expected to be published Saturday, but it will require vaccine makers to notify the EU when exporting coronavirus vaccines to most countries outside the European Union; more than 90 countries are exempt, but not the United States or the United Kingdom. Individual EU member states will then have to authorize those exports, and can block them if they believe companies exporting the vaccines aren’t making good on their own delivery deals with the EU.

It’s not an outright ban on vaccine exports, and they are only expected to last until March, but experts and observers worry it sets a troubling precedent.

There are now several vaccines available,and more promising candidates on the way. But the EU-AstraZeneca feud is the latest sign that global cooperation and solidarity on vaccine allocation is failing, said Rebecca Weintraub, faculty director of the Global Health Delivery Project at Harvard University.

“This is vaccine nationalism 101,” she said.

The EU was slower to sign a deal with AstraZeneca than the US and UK. That delay may be causing problems now

The European Union, on behalf of its 27 member states, made deals with vaccine makers, betting on a bunch of potential candidates and buying up doses in advance. In total, the EU purchased 2.3 billion vaccine doses from a handful of companies.

But, initially, richer EU members Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands began to negotiate deals with vaccine makers themselves, including with AstraZeneca.

“That caused a lot of friction in Europe,” Christian Odendahl, chief economist at the Center for European Reform, told me.

“If you’re integrated both politically and economically, you don’t want to be vaccinated and your neighboring country to not be vaccinated.”

The bloc needed to ensure that smaller, less wealthy member states without big purchasing power would also be able to get vaccines. The solution? Have the European Union itself take over the vaccine buying process for all of the member states.

But that also turned the whole thing into “a very bureaucratically cumbersome process,” said Paulette Kurzer, an expert on European politics and public health at the University of Arizona. The EU had to consult with the individual governments and balance all their interests. Other issues, liability protection and the cost of vaccines, also slowed discussions.

The European Union did finally strike those deals, with AstraZeneca and other vaccine makers, but it was later in signing a contract with AstraZeneca than were others, including the United Kingdom.

Fast-forward to December, when the United Kingdom became the first country in the world to authorize a vaccine (the Pfizer-BioNTech one) for emergency use. The US soon followed, but EU approval didn’t come until toward the end of December.

Already a few weeks behind some of its counterparts, the European Union’s vaccine campaign has stayed sluggish compared to places Israel and the United Kingdom.

A shortage of doses has meant EU countries have had to scale back the pace of inoculation; Madrid, Spain, for example, is halting its vaccination program this week. Germany’s health minister has said shortages may persist through July.

New doses from AstraZeneca would ease some of this pressure. But then came the bad news, when AstraZeneca indicated it would fall short of its initial commitment.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot, in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, said that the company was working “24/7” to fix the “glitches” in its European production.

“But the UK contract was signed three months before the European vaccine deal,” Soriot said. “So with the UK we have had an extra three months to fix all the glitches we experienced. As for Europe, we are three months behind in fixing those glitches.”

The EU, though, has insisted that under the terms of the contract, AstraZeneca must use its manufacturing facilities in Britain to supply the EU with its share of doses. But AstraZeneca says it must first fulfill its obligations to the United Kingdom before it can supply Europe or anywhere else. Right now, it’s delivering about 2 million doses per week to the UK.

On Friday, AstraZeneca released its purchase agreement with the EU to try to help clear up the confusion. But that didn’t do much to resolve the dispute.

European Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen said Friday it’s “crystal clear” that the contract says AstraZeneca has to use British factories to supply the EU since its EU production is stalled.

AstraZeneca, again, is saying that according to the contract, it has to make its “best reasonable effort” to fulfill the dosage orders, and it says that is what it is doing.

So the stalemate between the EU and AstraZeneca remains.

In some ways, the details of the contract are beside the point. The European Union — which is facing a lot of pressure from its member states — is desperate to deliver these vaccines to its citizens. And, as expected, the global demand for a vaccine is vastly outstripping the supply and the pace at which companies can produce them.

The European public is frustrated with the vaccine rollout. They see other countries getting vaccinated faster. Individual member states are in charge of vaccination rollout and distribution within their own borders, so blaming the EU for botching the procurement process is a good way to deflect some of the blame coming from their citizens.

And AstraZeneca — with additional factories located so tantalizingly close in former EU member state the United Kingdom — is a useful target for the EU to transfer that blame one step further.

The EU is using its power to try to get vaccines, at whatever cost. This is exactly the type of vaccine nationalism the world feared would happen

The EU’s threat to block vaccine exports could directly hurt the UK, which relies on a plant in Belgium for its Pfizer vaccine doses. But other countries, Canada, have raised concerns over whether their supplies could be affected, too.

The biggest fear is that this could be the first domino to fall, as other countries feel they need to act in their own interest, and maybe block exports, or withhold raw materials — whatever leverage they can use to try to muscle vaccine doses for their populations.

“Our supply chains are global,” Julie Swann, an expert in health systems and supply chains at North Carolina State University, told me. “While the manufacturing of a supply chain may be in one part of the world, the raw materials or consumables or assembly may be in a different location. This path is potentially dangerous to push as a main strategy.”

Experts said the world could see a reprise of the early days of the pandemic, when some 80 countries or customs territories banned or restricted the export of supplies.

“This could reignite the ‘beggar-thy-neighbor’ policies that characterized the early days of the pandemic with regard to personal protective equipment, ventilators and other medical supplies,” Thomas Bollyky, senior fellow for global health, economics, and development at the Council on Foreign Relations, said.

The EU may perceive this decision to be in its self-interest. But if other countries follow suit, it could backfire — on the EU, and the rest of the world. Because it will almost certainly prolong the pandemic.

“It’s making more and more clear, the huge chasm between what people are saying and what they’re doing,” Krishna Udayakumar, director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center, told me.

The EU, in particular, he said, was seen as a leader in global health equity. It’s given a lot of support to Covax, the multilateral effort to help low-income countries get vaccinated.

And yet everyone is still looking out for themselves.

“At the end of the day,” he said, the EU is “doing whatever they can to get access to vaccines as quickly for their own population as possible.”

“,”author”:”Jen Kirby”,”date_published”:”2021-01-30T02:05:59.000Z”,”lead_image_url”:”×2337/fit-in/1200×630/”,”dek”:null,”next_page_url”:null,”url”:””,”domain”:””,”excerpt”:”The European Union’s vaccination program has struggled, and now the bloc is taking actions that could hamper global vaccine efforts.”,”word_count”:1596,”direction”:”ltr”,”total_pages”:1,”rendered_pages”:1}


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