AstraZeneca chief defends EU vaccine rollout plan

27 January 2021, 05:47

The AstraZeneca chief has defended the EU rollout of the vaccine
The AstraZeneca chief has defended the EU rollout of the vaccine. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

The head of AstraZeneca has defended its rollout of its Covid-19 vaccine in the EU following tension between member states and the company over supply issues.

Chief executive Pascal Soriot predicted the UK will have vaccinated "maybe 28 or 30 million people" by March and will hit the target to administer jabs to the top four priority groups by mid-February.

"The Prime Minister has a goal to vaccinate 15 million people by mid-February, and they're already at 6.5 million. So they will get there".

Mr Soriot said there had been "teething issues" in the UK supply chain as well but that the deal with Britain was signed three months ahead of the EU's.

"So with the UK we have had an extra three months to fix all the glitches we experienced," he said.

It comes as the European Commission last night threatened to impose controls on vaccines following criticism of a slow rollout in the EU.

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Pascal Soriot predicted the UK will have vaccinated "maybe 28 or 30 million people" by March
Pascal Soriot predicted the UK will have vaccinated "maybe 28 or 30 million people" by March. Picture: PA

Mr Soriot rejected the suggestion the firm was selling to the highest bidder "because we make no profit everywhere" under the agreement signed with Oxford University.

Mr Soriot that his team was working "24/7 to fix the very many issues of production of the vaccine" and said production was "basically two months behind where we wanted to be".

Mr Soriot told Italian newspaper La Repubblica that problems in "scaling up vaccine production were being experienced at two plants", in the Netherlands and Belgium.

"It's complicated, especially in the early phase where you have to really sort out all sorts of issues," he said.

"We believe we've sorted out those issues, but we are basically two months behind where we wanted to be.

"We've also had teething issues like this in the UK supply chain. But the UK contract was signed three months before the European vaccine deal. So with the UK we have had an extra three months to fix all the glitches we experienced.

"Would I like to do better? Of course. But, you know, if we deliver in February what we are planning to deliver, it's not a small volume. We are planning to deliver millions of doses to Europe, it is not small."

Mr Soriot also said AstraZeneca was working on a vaccine with Oxford University that would target the South African variant of the coronavirus.

AstraZeneca boss Mr Soriot gave an optimistic prediction for the UK's rollout as he sought to explain the problems being faced by the EU.

On Tuesday, European health commissioner Stella Kyriakides accused AstraZeneca, which works with Oxford University on its vaccine, of failing to give a valid explanation for failing to deliver doses to the bloc.

The Pfizer vaccine is manufactured in Europe but the bulk of the AstraZeneca jab meant for the UK is manufactured on British soil.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, addressing the virtual version of the annual World Economic Forum (WEF), usually held in Davos, said: "Europe invested billions to help develop the world's first Covid-19 vaccines. And now, the companies must deliver. They must honour their obligations."

Boris Johnson has said he has "total confidence" in the UK's supply of vaccines after the European Union threatened to block exports of jabs.

The Prime Minister told a Downing Street press briefing that the delivery of vaccines was a "multinational effort" and the UK would continue to work with European partners.

Mr Johnson said: "All I would say is obviously we expect and hope that our EU friends will honour all contracts and we will continue ... we fully expect that will happen ... and we continue to work with friends and partners in the EU, and indeed around the world, because the delivery of the vaccine has been a multinational effort, and the delivery of the vaccine is multinational as well, because the virus knows no borders."

Asked if he would urge the EU against controls on exports of vaccines, he added: "The creation of these vaccines has been a wonderful example of multinational cooperation and one of the lessons the world has to learn from the pandemic is to cooperate so I don't want to see restrictions on the supply of PPE (personal protective equipment), drugs or vaccines or their ingredients across borders."

And on Tuesday, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told LBC that vaccine nationalism is 'the wrong way to go' following EU warnings about tightening supplies.

Mr Zahawi told Nick Ferrari: "We have great confidence in Pfizer and their delivery programme and I pay tribute to their chief executive and the whole business.

"From day one they have talked about 'equitable supply' and they will supply Europe and the UK. They are in the process of reconfiguring their European operations to deliver two billion doses instead of 1.6 billion doses.

"So I have every confidence that we will get our deliveries as scheduled. And of course, with the Oxford AstraZeneca, the bulk of that is being manufactured in the UK so I am also confident that we will get our deliveries on that.

"I think the right thing to do is for us and the EU to focus on making sure we both get our volumes.

"Vaccine nationalism is the wrong way to go. We've got to make sure we protect our own people and then put our effort in to help the rest of the world."