In Brief

AstraZeneca delivery delays threatens EU’s Covid vaccination target

Fresh setback to bloc’s bid to inoculate 70% of adults by summer

EU officials battling to boost the bloc’s floundering Covid vaccine rollout have reacted with fury after being warned of delays to deliveries of AstraZeneca’s jabs. 

An insider told Politico’s Brussels Playbook that “serious questions” had been raised in the European Commission following the Cambridge-based drugmaker’s announcement that deliveries will be “lower than initially anticipated” owing to “reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain”.

European Council President Charles Michel has warned that failing to meet the delivery deadlines agreed in a deal signed last year will mean the bloc’s target of vaccinating 70% of the adult population of EU countries by summer will be “difficult” to fulfil.

“There are difficulties in the production lines in the coming weeks and that will make the process more complex,” Michel told France’s Europe 1 radio.

The EU signed up to a “three-digit million-euro” contract with the drugmaker to reserve 300 million vaccine doses, with an option for an additional 100 million, according to documents published by the European Commission.  

In light of the delivery delays announcement, what the EU wants to know now “is quite simple: what the problem is”, says Brussels Playbook’s Florian Eder

Brussels is convinced that “either the advance production hasn’t happened, or vaccines have been produced but sold to someone else that perhaps agreed to pay more”, Eder continues. “Either way, the company has opted to not honour an agreement made with a huge market of 27 countries and 450 million people, perhaps a risky choice.”

The bloc can ill afford further problems with its vaccination programme, amid widespread anger over existing shortages of jabs and frustration over delays in giving vaccines regulatory approval.

An analysis by the Financial Times found that EU countries have administered an average of around only two doses per 100 residents, compared with more than ten doses per 100 in the UK.

“The widening gap has sparked growing anxiety in European capitals”, where officials said the bloc would hold talks with AstraZeneca today “in an effort to speed up production”, the paper reports.

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