|© REUTERS / Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo|
(SputnikNews) - The UK's coronavirus vaccination programme is five times more advanced than the EU's, with 10 per cent of the British population inoculated versus just two per cent across the 27-member bloc. the European Commission's response has been to restrict exports of jabs to non-EU countries.
The European Commission has demanded AstraZeneca hand over some 75 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine made at its British plant — threatening to sue the firm for hundreds of millions.
The European Union's (EU) top body said the drug maker's production centre in Wales must make up for shortfalls at two facilities on the continent that had seen only a quarter of the EU's order of 100 million of the low-cost vaccines delivered, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported on Wednesday.
"If UK plants are working better, are we expecting UK plants to deliver doses to the EU? Yes we do," a commission spokesman said, claiming that was a condition of the supply contract with the EU
The Commission threatened to sue AstraZeneca for around €300 million (£265 million) it says it has invested in development of the firm's coronavirus vaccine — research for which was done at the UK's Oxford University.
Speaking in Brussels, Commissioner for Health Stella Kyriakides said "we reject the logic of first come, first served. That may work at the neighbourhood butcher's, but not in contracts." — a clear reference to the UK's early order of millions of vaccines from Astrazeneca.
Meanwhile leading German newspapers attacked the Commission's centralised management of the 27 EU member states' vaccine procurement.
The EU was proceeding "slowly, bureaucratically and protectionist... and if something goes wrong, it's everyone else's fault" read a front-page editorial in Die Zeit.
And Bild accused Commission President Ursula von der Leyen of trying to cover up for a three-month delay in ordering jabs from AstraZeneca, pointing out that "Brexit Brits continue to receive full supplies."
One in ten people in the UK has had at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine so far — compared to just two per cent of EU residents.
Difficulties in Scaling-Up
In an interview with Italy's La Repubblica on Tuesday, AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said there had been initial problems "scaling -up" prtoduction at the firm's vaccine culturing sites in Belgium and the Netherlands. But he hopped to provide a "reasonable quantity" of doses to the EU by February.
"Our team is working 24/7 to fix the very much issues of production of the vaccine itself," Soriot said. "Some of those batches have very high yield and others have low yield. Particularly in Europe, we had one site with large capacity that experienced yield issues."
"When you do that, you have glitches, you have scale-up problems," Soriot continued "Therefore, the yield varies from one to three, by the factor of three. The best site we have produces three times more vaccine out of a batch than the lowest producing site."
Soriot stressed that his company was selling its vaccines at cost price, dismissing claims that it had charged more to the EU than to the UK.
"We do this at no profit, remember? We didn't go into this to try and make money or whatever. We would like to treat Europe as good as possible. I actually do believe we treated Europe fairly".
Europe invested billions to help develop the world‘s 1st COVID vaccines & create a global common good.— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) January 26, 2021
Now the companies must deliver & honour their obligations. We will set up a vaccine export transparency mechanism.
EU is committed to contribute. But we also mean business. pic.twitter.com/lvq0KkCWJD
There have been multiple reports of severe adverse reactions to the Pfizer vaccine, with its new little-used mRNA base that provokes human cells to produce vaccine protein antigens.
On Monday, German newspaper Handelsblatt published claims — swiftly scotched by the country's health ministry — that the EMA was on the verge of rejecting AstraZeneca's licensing application, claiming it was only eight per cent effective.