The European Commission and AstraZeneca (AZN.L) have reached an agreement on the drug maker’s delivery of 200 million pending COVID-19 vaccine doses, putting an end to a dispute over shortages that has weighed on the company and the region’s vaccination programme.
The dispute threw the European Union into disarray early this year, as governments sought for vaccines under demands to speed up vaccinations. It also produced a PR dilemma for AstraZeneca, which is run by Pascal Soriot, a Frenchman. After initially reducing its reliance on the Anglo-Swedish drug maker, Brussels said that some of the volumes committed under the agreement would be transferred outside of the EU to minimise global vaccination inequity. Pfizer/ BioNTech is now the leading supplier of vaccines to the EU.
AstraZeneca has agreed to supply 60 million doses of its Vaxzevria vaccine by the end of the third quarter this year, 75 million by the end of the fourth quarter, and 65 million by the end of the first quarter of 2022 as part of the settlement reached on Friday.
After months of disagreement over delays, the timeline maps out the corporation and the EU honouring a 300 million dose bulk purchasing contract signed a year ago.
The European Commission filed a lawsuit against AstraZeneca in for failing to honour the contract and failing to have a “reliable” plan in place to assure timely deliveries.
If there were any delayed doses, capped rebates would be issued, according to the EU’s executive body. It was also said that EU members with low immunisation rates would be prioritised.
“There are considerable disparities in immunisation rates among our member states, and vaccine availability, including AstraZeneca’s, remains critical,” EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said.
She also stated that some of the settlement’s deliveries would go to low-income countries outside of the EU.
“We’ll keep assisting the rest of the world. Our goal is to distribute at least 200 million vaccine doses to low- and middle-income countries through COVAX by the end of the year “She was referring to the GAVI Vaccine Alliance and the World Health Organization’s vaccine-sharing facility. The European Commission said this week that 70 percent of the adult population in the European Union had been properly vaccinated, exceeding a goal set at the start of the year.
While the highly contagious Delta version of the coronavirus is generating an increase in cases and vaccines are being researched for long-term protection, the settlement allows for distribution.
Pfizer and BioNTech have been able to meet the majority of the EU’s vaccination needs because the companies have been able to ramp up production to meet demand. Concerns over very rare incidents of significant blood clotting linked to the Astra shot, which was developed in collaboration with Oxford University, have slowed demand.
In July, Germany decided that recipients of an initial Astra injection would finish their two-shot protocol with a dosage of Pfizer or Moderna, thus reducing Astra use in the region.
“I’m delighted that we’ve reached an agreement that allows us to move forward and collaborate with the European Commission to help combat the pandemic,” said Ruud Dobber, a senior executive at AstraZeneca.
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, about 92 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine have been distributed to EU member states so far. That’s far less than Pfizer/437 BioNTech’s million doses, but more than the 77 million Moderna (MRNA.O) vaccine doses.
Astra said it had already released more than 140 million doses to the EU at no cost, including doses that had yet to be sent to member states and EU consignments to COVAX or other non-EU countries.