An AstraZeneca vaccine production line.
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The European Union has proposed that drug maker AstraZeneca reroute supplies of its coronavirus vaccine from the UK to mainland Europe as the battle over production delays and supplies continues.
It comes after AstraZeneca told the EU last week that it would initially deliver far fewer doses of its Covid vaccine to the block of 27 than initially thought.
The EU on Wednesday demanded that the pharmaceutical company honor its agreement to supply coronavirus vaccines by all means necessary.
Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said talks with the company, which continued on Wednesday, had been "constructive". But she also tweeted that "contractual obligations must be met, vaccines must be delivered to EU citizens".
She said in a statement that the EU rejected the "first come, first served" logic after AstraZeneca's CEO blamed delivery delays to teething problems at its European manufacturing sites and ironed out similar issues in the UK. because they had ordered his vaccine dose three months earlier than the EU.
In a press conference, Kyriakides said there was "no hierarchy" in the manufacturing facilities identified in his pre-purchase agreement with AstraZeneca and no provision as to which EU would or would not supply.
"There are four factories in the contract, but there is no distinction between the UK and Europe. The factories in the UK are part of our pre-purchase agreement so they have to deliver," she said. There was no clause in the contract stating that the drug manufacturer would give priority to the UK, she added.
It is the latest development in the very public confrontation between the EU and AstraZeneca, as the latter is facing problems in two of their European plants.
The British-Swedish company's CEO, Pascal Soriot, further fueled tensions on Tuesday when he said in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that the deal with the EU was a "best possible" rather than a "contractual obligation".
The EU hit back and asked the pharmaceutical company to come up with detailed plans for its delivery schedule. An official urged AstraZeneca to redirect cans made in the UK to the EU, despite the company's failure to respond to the problem, according to a Reuters report.
In an interview on Tuesday, Soriot said: "The UK government said that delivery from the UK supply chain would go to the UK first. Basically it is. The EU agreement mentions that UK production facilities were an option for Europe, but later. "
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not comment directly on the matter on Wednesday but said: "We are very confident in our deliveries, we are very confident in our contracts and we are proceeding on that basis."
The EU is struggling to get its vaccination drive going due to a lack of supplies. Vaccine maker Pfizer-BioNTech initially delivered a blow, announcing it would temporarily cut production to improve its production capacity in Belgium. This was followed last Friday by AstraZeneca, which reduced its delivery estimates for the region.
An unnamed senior EU official told Reuters that the bloc expected about 80 million doses by March but had been told it would only receive 31 million doses instead. The company has not confirmed the quantities concerned.
The European Medicines Agency is expected to release the AstraZeneca vaccine for use on Friday.
The UK ordered 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine last May, becoming the first country to do so. It relies heavily on the vaccine to fuel its immunization, which sprinted ahead of those in continental Europe that started in early December. The introduction of the EU began on December 27th. Originally, 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were ordered in August.
So far, the UK has vaccinated over 7.1 million people with a first dose of vaccine and nearly half a million received their second dose, which means more vaccinations have been received than Germany, France, Italy and Spain combined data numbers, according to Our World In.