The European Commission and AstraZeneca announced they had reached a deal for the delivery of 200 million outstanding Covid-19 vaccines, ending a legal dispute that soured relations during some of the worst months of the pandemic.
The British-Swedish drugmaker agreed to deliver 60 million doses by the end of September, a further 75 million by Christmas, and the final 65 million by the end of March 2022.
Once delivered, the EU will finally have received the 300 million AstraZeneca doses that it once expected the company to have delivered by the end of June this year. Delays slowed the EU’s vaccine rollout amid a global scramble for vaccines earlier this year, triggering legal action by the Commission that led a Belgian court to find in June the company was in “serious breach” of its contract.
"I'm very pleased that we have been able to reach a common understanding, which allows us to move forward and work in collaboration with the European Commission to help overcome the pandemic," AstraZeneca senior executive Ruud Dobber said in a statement.
The relatively cheap and easy-to-store AstraZeneca vaccine was once expected to form the backbone of Europe’s vaccination programme.
But the delays, combined with periods of age restriction on the use of the vaccine in various European countries due to concerns about side effects, meant it was overtaken as the vaccine of preference by the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine, which now makes up the bulk of the EU’s supply.
Many of the AstraZeneca doses are expected to be donated and sold for use in other countries around the world, including through the World Health Organization-backed vaccine-sharing facility Covax.
"We will continue helping the rest of the world. Our aim is to share at least 200 million doses of vaccines through Covax with low and middle-income countries until the end of this year," said EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.
The European Commission announced earlier this week that 70 per cent of the EU adult population had been fully vaccinated, hitting a target set earlier this year.
However, coverage rates in member states vary widely, from about 90 per cent of the adult population in Ireland to as low as 22 per cent and 32 per cent in Bulgaria and Romania.
“There are significant differences in vaccination rates between our member states, and the continued availability of vaccines, including AstraZeneca’s, remain crucial,” Kyriakides said.
Under the new agreement AstraZeneca’s pledges are a “firm commitment” rather than based on “best efforts”. The deal is also dependent on the European Medicines Agency approving two new AstraZeneca manufacturing sites by the end of October. A company spokesperson said it was “confident” it could deliver on the new schedule.
Ruud Dobber, executive vice-president of the company’s biopharmaceuticals business, said he was very pleased the pair had reached a “common understanding”.
“We are fully committed to manufacture Vaxzevria [the brand name of the vaccine] for Europe following the release for supply of more than 140 million doses to date at no profit,” he said. – additional reporting by The Financial Times