AstraZeneca's surprise COVID-19 vaccine shortfall prompts Europe to press for answers

Clay Curtis
January 26, 2021

AstraZeneca, which developed its shot with Oxford University, told the European Union on Friday it could not meet agreed supply targets up to the end of March, with an European Union official involved in the talks telling Reuters that meant a 60% cut to 31 million doses. The company had a "significant supply shock", Australian health minister Greg Hunt told reporters, as quoted by Reuters, and Australia will now shift to domestic production of the vaccine earlier than it had planned.

On Friday, AstraZeneca informed Brussels that first-quarter supplies of the jab would fall short of what was promised.

The German federal government only expects the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to have an effectiveness of eight percent among the over 65s.

According to an AP News report, the European Union, with 450 million citizens, not to mention economic and political power clout of the biggest trading coalition of the world, is "lagging badly behind" like other nations, including Israel and Britain, in its rolling out of COVID-19 vaccine shots for the country's health care workers and the most vulnerable individuals.

Two European officials told Reuters on Tuesday that AstraZeneca at two extraordinary meetings on Monday had offered the EU to bring forward to February 7 the start of deliveries from an initial plan to begin on Feb 15.

It would also have a knock-on effect for the EU's plan to contribute excess doses to a World Health Organisation-led COVAX initiative to provide vaccines to poorer nations around the world.

"The EU wants to know exactly which doses have been produced by the company so far and where", said the Cypriot Commissioner, adding that the EU will take any action required to protect its citizens' rights.

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Word of AstraZeneca's inability to meet its contract terms was the second big setback for the European Union in terms of vaccine supplies in recent days.

The row could also affect supplies to the United Kingdom of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine developed by the U.S. and Germany. The companies are gearing up to deliver 2 billion doses globally in 2021, and in Europe, deliveries from the companies were set to resume as normal starting on Monday.

Canada's anxiety-laden COVID-19 vaccine programs are facing further threats as Europe warns drug makers it might impose export controls on European-made vaccine doses.

The delays in getting vaccines will be make it harder to meet early targets in the EU's goal of vaccinating 70% of its adults by late summer.

A spokesman for AstraZeneca said: "Reports that the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine efficacy is as low as 8% in adults over 65 years are completely incorrect".

The European Medicines Agency is scheduled to review the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine on Friday and its approval is hotly anticipated.

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