Vaccine tsar says EU will get AstraZeneca doses over which UK made claim

EU now on track to fully vaccinate 70% of the adult population by July 14, says Thierry Breton

AstraZeneca has agreed that almost all the Covid vaccine doses made in the Netherlands over which the UK has made a claim will stay in the EU, as Brussels’ vaccine tsar said Europe was now on track for an “almost normal” tourist season.

Thierry Breton, the European commissioner leading the bloc’s vaccine taskforce, said the chief executive of AstraZeneca had confirmed to him that all but 1.2 million to 1.5 million doses at the Dutch plant would now be delivered to EU member states.

The Dutch factory, where the Anglo-Swedish firm’s subcontractor, Halix, makes the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, produces about 7.5 million doses a month, over which the UK claimed it had a contractual right during recent talks.

Whitehall officials had proposed a 50/50 split but Mr Breton, a French former finance minister, said Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca’s French-born chief executive, had recognised that all but one batch of the jabs would go to EU residents.

“I organised a [video teleconference] between the CEO of Halix and the CEO of AstraZeneca, and finally the CEO of AstraZeneca recognised that all the production of Halix was planned to support the EU delivery. That is all I can tell you,” Mr Breton said.

“The CEO of AstraZeneca told us that, in fact, since February all the production of Halix has been planned to be delivered to Europe except, he said, one batch, to be very precise.

“AstraZeneca has a commitment: they have committed 70 million in quarter two [of the financial year] and I know that 70 million is AstraZeneca’s production, more or less, of Halix and Seneffe [a plant in Belgium],” Mr Breton added.

“This is why I think that they will deliver this commitment, but I just remind you that at the beginning the contract was 180 million, so they reduced drastically what they could do.”

‘Commercially sensitive’

A spokesman for AstraZeneca declined to comment. A UK government spokesman said: “We are continuing to make exceptional progress through the rollout of our vaccination programme and remain confident in our supplies. The details of any commercial vaccine supply agreements between national governments and AstraZeneca are commercially sensitive and a matter for those two parties.”

Sir Tim Barrow, the UK’s former ambassador to the EU, had been in talks until late last Thursday in Brussels with aides to European commission president Ursula von der Leyen seeking a deal on the Dutch-made jabs and wider issues around vaccine production.

The stockpile at the plant in Leiden, in south Holland, had been seen in Whitehall as a key part in making up a shortfall in production in the UK and deliveries from India, where the government has, in effect, imposed an export ban on AstraZeneca doses made by a subcontractor, the Serum Institute.

UK government funding

Oxford University, which was given more than £65.5 million in additional UK government funding last year to work on its vaccine, has been in a commercial relationship with the Halix plant since April 2020, but Mr Breton dismissed suggestions that this had any bearing on rights to the doses.

“In the discussion I had at the beginning with the CEO of AstraZeneca, I understood, he told me, that the ramp up of Halix has been financed by the British government,” Mr Breton said.

“And it happens that when I went to visit the site and I asked how much they’re received from the British government, the chairman and the CEO were there and they told me ‘zero’. So in fact, I asked three times a question and I got three times the same answer.”

The commissioner added that the performance of the 27 member states’ vaccine rollout would have been superior to that of the UK if they had not had issues with AstraZeneca, which was only able to produce 29.8 million doses in the first quarter of this year – less than 25 per cent of its initial commitment.

“If AstraZeneca had delivered the way it should have delivered to us, like I understand it did in the UK, we will have been exactly in the same situation, even really better, than the UK today, which did get a great organisation through the NHS to vaccinate people,” Mr Breton said.

He added that despite the issues in the first few months of the year, the EU was on target for its goal of fully vaccinating 70 per cent of the adult population by July 14th.

The EU expects to be supplied with 360 million vaccine doses in the second quarter, with a production capacity of two billion by the end of the year.

Mr Breton, a former chief executive of the French IT company Atos, claimed this would allow people to enjoy something close to a normal summer holiday in just a few months’ time.

He said: “We will be in a much better position probably to travel again, to have a social life and to hopefully, because this is also part of my responsibility, to have an almost normal tourist season, which is very important. This is why I’m pushing so hard on member states to tell them that they need to organise themselves.” – Guardian