Astra Chief’s Response to EU’s Vaccine-Delay Claims: Main Points

AstraZeneca Plc said it’s not backsliding on any vaccine-delivery commitments to the European Union, setting the stage for showdown with the bloc over a crunch call later on Wednesday.

In a newspaper interview, Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot delivered a public rebuttal to the EU’s allegations. The comments could change public perception about the bloc’s handling of vaccine contracts and inflict further damage on the image of European governments, already tainted by a failure to tame the coronavirus pandemic.

This is a summary of Soriot’s comments, as cited in English, during an interview with Italy’s la Repubblica newspaper:

  • Responding to EU claims that the company is backtracking on its contractual commitments to deliver a specific number of vaccines, Soriot said there’s no such commitment.
    • “I can only tell you what’s in their contract. And the contract is very clear. Our commitment is, and I quote, ‘our best effort’.”
  • EU government officials have raised the possibility that AstraZeneca opted to deliver less vaccines to the EU because it’s seeking to sell its vaccine supplies elsewhere. Soriot dismissed this.
    • “The suggestion that we sell to other countries to make more money is not right because we make no profit” on the vaccine.
  • The EU has repeatedly said that it’s fighting against “vaccine nationalism” and wants the entire world, including poorer countries, to have access to the shot. Soriot said that the bloc is already getting more than its fair share from the company’s available supplies.
    • “Europe is getting 17% of our global supply for a month for 5% of the world population. The problem is: 100 million doses is a lot; but we have 7.5 billion people in the world.”
  • The European Commission has said it has promptly struck deals for a broad portfolio of vaccines to secure supplies for all EU citizens. However, Soriot signaled that the EU deal may have come too late.
    • “Europe at the time wanted to be supplied more or less at the same time as the U.K., even though the contract was signed three months later.”
  • The EU’s executive arm also claimed that manufacturing glitches in Astra’s Belgian factory aren’t a good enough reason to delay supplies, as the drugmaker can use other production facilities. Soriot said it’s not that simple.
    • “In the EU agreement, it’s mentioned that the manufacturing sites in the U.K. were an option for Europe, but only later.”
    • Speaking on condition of anonymity, an EU official said that Soriot’s claim that the U.K. has to be prioritized for vaccines produced in British factories doesn’t exist in the contract signed between the company and the bloc.
  • The EU says it has invested hundreds of millions of euros in helping the drugmaker boost its production capacity. Soriot said that the U.K. has done the same for manufacturing in Britain, so the EU will have to wait its turn.
    • “The U.K. government said the vaccines coming out of the U.K. supply chain would go to the U.K. first,” he said. “This vaccine was developed with the U.K. government, Oxford and with us as well. As soon as we can, we’ll help the EU.
  • Media reports in Germany claimed that Astra’s vaccine has low efficacy among the elderly. Soriot flatly denied the claim.
    • “The efficacy in that group -- I don’t remember the precise number -- it´s comparable to what you had in younger people.”
  • Crucially, Soriot cited Britain as an example of good practice, especially the fact that it opted to initially administer the vaccine in one dose, instead of two. The single dose is enough to prevent severe illness, Soriot said.
    • “We believe that the efficacy of one dose is sufficient: 100% protection against severe disease and hospitalization, and 71-73% of efficacy overall. The second dose is needed for long-term protection.”
  • Without explicitly criticizing EU governments over the pace of vaccinations, Soriot said that the company is going to deliver millions of shots to the bloc in February. Given the pace of inoculations so far, it may be a challenge for governments to administer them.
    • “You know, if we deliver in February what we are planning to deliver, it’s not a small volume.”

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