AstraZeneca confirms attendance for talks on COVID-19 vaccine delay, shortly after EU official says it had pulled out

It was not immediately clear if AstraZeneca had reversed a decision to pull out, or if the EU’s information that it would not participate was incorrect.

January 27, 2021 06:10 pm | Updated 06:34 pm IST - Brussels

Confusion erupted on January 27 over a scheduled meeting between AstraZeneca and the EU to discuss the pharmaceutical group’s delay in delivering its COVID-19 vaccine.

An EU official told AFP that AstraZeneca had abruptly pulled out of the meeting — the third called for this week — in what was seen as an escalation in the contractual row over the deliveries.

But shortly afterwards AstraZeneca issued a statement saying: “We can confirm we have not pulled out, we will be attending the meeting with EU officials later today (Wednesday).”

It was not immediately clear if AstraZeneca had reversed a decision to pull out, or if the EU’s information that it would not participate was incorrect.

A European Commission spokeswoman, Dana Spinant, told journalists the situation with AstraZeneca executives was “evolving”. “I can’t say whether AstraZeneca will be represented,” she said, adding that some input was expected from the firm during the meeting.

Public communication on the issue has become increasingly sharp.

The European Commission is demanding AstraZeneca fulfil its contract for the vaccine doses.

But AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said in an interview given on January 26 that his firm was bound only to make its “best effort” to deliver the doses.

“We didn’t commit with the EU... It’s not a commitment we have to Europe,” he said.

He also said that former EU member Britain — which has been rolling out AstraZeneca vaccine jabs at a high pace — had a headstart on the European Union by signing its contract three months earlier, giving time to iron out “glitches” in U.K. vaccine plants.

A senior EU official on January 27 rejected those points made by Mr. Soriot.

“We contest many of the things in the interview, including the idea that the factories in the U.K. are reserved for U.K. deliveries. It’s not true,” the EU official told AFP .

‘Unsatisfactory’ answers

The January 27 meeting was the third scheduled this week between the EU and AstraZeneca representatives. The first two, both on January 25, resulted in the EU being given “unsatisfactory” answers, European health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said afterwards.

While Mr. Soriot revealed some of the terms of the contract signed with the European Commission, the full contract remains confidential at AstraZeneca’s demand.

The Commission was to brief journalists in further detail on its response and on the increasingly bitter feud that has erupted with the pharmaceutical firm.

The delay, coming on top of one announced two weeks ago by BioNTech/Pfizer, threatens to scupper the Commission’s goal of having 70% of all adults in the EU vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of August.

Already the rollout of jabs is trailing well behind Britain, the United States and Israel on a per capita basis.

Two vaccines are currently authorised for use across the 27-nation bloc: the BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna jabs.

The European Medicines Agency is expected to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine late this week.

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