EU in stand-off with AstraZeneca over vaccine delivery shortfall
CAPE TOWN - The European Union is embroiled in a row with AstraZeneca after the pharmaceutical company warned of a shortfall in delivery of Covid-19 vaccines to the bloc.
European media reported that AstraZeneca informed the European Commission on Friday that it would not be able to meet its commitment of 100 million doses of the vaccine to EU member states in the first quarter of the year.
European health authorities have been widely expected to give the vaccine regulatory approval later this week.
But Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted the company as saying in a statement that its delivery to member states could be cut by as much as 60% due to production problems at a factory in Belgium.
The Guardian reported that in response, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen cautioned that the company was obliged to honour its commitments under advance purchasing agreements.
The newspaper added that the EU has now warned to block exportation of the vaccine to countries outside the union, including Britain, until the issue is resolved.
Von der Leyen reportedly warned AstraZeneca's CEO Pascal Soriot that member countries fighting a deadly second wave of the virus had paid large sums of money to ensure that production of the vaccine was sped up.
EU officials were quoted as saying it was understandable that production issues could occur, but they wanted these resolved as swiftly as possible.
The vaccine was developed with the co-operation of scientists at Oxford University. It has already been widely rolled out in Britain.
Europe is hoping to vaccinate 70% of its population by the end of August.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is considered crucial to the global vaccination effort because it is relatively cheap and does not have the same cool-storage requirements of others in production, but can be preserved at normal fridge temperatures.