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The EU releases an AstraZeneca vaccine deal because the combat for provides intensifies

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will give a lecture at the end of a video conference of the members of the European Council that dealt with the Covid 19 pandemic in Brussels on January 21, 2021.

OLIVIER HOSLET | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON – The European Union released an edited version of the contract it signed with AstraZeneca on Friday as the bloc put pressure on the drug maker to deliver the promised Covid vaccine shipments.

The EU, which has been criticized for its slow adoption of vaccinations, was hit with a blow by AstraZeneca last week when the company said it could only deliver a fraction of the shots it agreed to for the first quarter.

AstraZeneca has denied it failed to deliver on its commitments, stating that shipments to the 27-nation bloc were targets rather than promises. The company also cited production problems at its European plants for the delays.

The European Medicines Agency is expected to make a decision on Friday on whether the AstraZeneca vaccine will actually be approved for use.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said on Friday morning on German radio: "There are binding orders and the contract is crystal clear."

"AstraZeneca also explicitly assured us in this contract that no other obligations would prevent the fulfillment of the contract," she said, according to Reuters.

The head of the EU executive alleged the deal included clear delivery amounts for December and the first three quarters of 2021.

AstraZeneca wasn't immediately available for comment when CNBC reached out on Friday.

International competition concerns

Earlier this week, Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca, said the EU contract was based on what is known as a "best effort" clause and did not officially oblige the drug maker to a specific delivery schedule.

The EU von der Leyen rejected this proposal on Friday, adding that the clause would only apply if it was unclear whether AstraZeneca could develop a safe and effective vaccine. She also claimed that the contract specifically mentioned four manufacturing facilities that would supply the vaccine to Europe, two of which are in the UK.

EU officials have indicated that deliveries from the UK to Europe could be rerouted if delays in European production persist.

The EU of around 450 million people is struggling to get its vaccinations up and running as it is insufficiently supplied and is currently lagging far behind countries like Israel and the UK in delivering vaccines to its citizens.

A look at the headquarters of the British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca as a Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and inspected in Brussels, Belgium on January 28, 2021.

Dursun Aydemir | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

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.

A deepening dispute between the EU and AstraZeneca has raised concerns about international competition for limited vaccine supplies. Hopefully the vaccinations can help end the coronavirus pandemic.

– CNBC's Holly Ellyatt contributed to this report.

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