April 11, 2024

AstraZeneca CEO defends plans to supply vaccine to UK ahead of EU, amid frustration over delays

Director of AstraZeneca, Pascal Soriot, visits the laboratory of the AstraZeneca factory on January 20.
Director of AstraZeneca, Pascal Soriot, visits the laboratory of the AstraZeneca factory on January 20. Raphael Lafargue/SIPA/Shutterstock

AstraZeneca’s chief executive Pascal Soriot has defended the pharmaceutical giant’s decision to prioritize vaccine deliveries to the United Kingdom, after the European Union voiced growing frustration over delivery delays.

“The UK agreement was reached in June, three months before the European one. As you could imagine, the UK government said the supply coming out of the UK supply chain would go to the UK first,” Soriot told Italian newspaper la Repubblica on Tuesday.
“The contract with the UK was signed first and the UK, of course, said ‘you supply us first,’ and this is fair enough. This vaccine was developed with the UK government, Oxford and with us as well,” he added. 

Earlier on Monday, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides expressed dissatisfaction on talks with AstraZeneca, saying that the drugmaker “intends to supply considerably fewer doses in the coming weeks than agreed and announced” due to production problems.  

Speaking to la Repubblica, Soriot conceded that the company had to reduce supply to the EU as a result of reduced yields early in the manufacturing process at one site in Europe.

“It’s complicated, especially in the early phase where you have to really kind of sort out all sorts of issues. We believe we’ve sorted out those issues, but we are basically two months behind where we wanted to be,” Soriot said. 

He added that they also faced “teething issues” with the UK supply chain — but they had a “head start” since they signed the contract earlier, and had more time to “fix all the glitches.”

European delays: So far, the EU has ordered 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine — which could be approved for use by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) as soon as this week — with an option to purchase an additional 100 million doses. 

With production issues centered around AstraZeneca’s European plants, Soriot said the company could soon be able to begin using its UK site to help Europe once the UK has “reached a sufficient number of vaccinations.” 

“We’re moving very quickly, the supply in the UK is very rapid. The government is vaccinating 2.5 million people a week, about 500,000 a day, our vaccine supply is growing quickly,” he told the Italian newspaper. “As soon as we can, we’ll help the EU,” he added.