AstraZeneca publishes vaccine contract after pressure from EU

Suban Abdulla
·4-min read

Watch: AstraZeneca contract with EU published as Brussels says firm has 'binding orders' for jab

Pharma company AstraZeneca (AZN) on Friday agreed to publish its COVID-19 contract with the European Union, following pressure from European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

The EC welcomed the company’s “transparency” but, key issues remain over the “best reasonable effort” clause in the contract, which was published with large redacted sections.

AstraZeneca says the clause is not binding on the numbers of vaccines, but rather on best efforts. However the EU says it’s binding.

As a result, the bloc has asked the pharmaceutical firm to send some doses manufactured in Britain to the continent to make up the shortfall, but AstraZeneca says this would breach its contract with the UK.

Britain, which has been dragged into the tussle between the EU and AstraZeneca has said that it expects to receive its vaccine doses to keep Britain’s inoculation programme on track.

A spokesperson for prime minister Boris Johnson said on Friday the government would not discuss contractual matters. But he said the government expected contracts to be “facilitated” and he was confident of its supply.

Speaking to German radio Deutschlandfunk earlier, Von der Leyen had said that the pharmaceutical company had not provided any "plausible explanation" for the reason it will not deliver the agreed number of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

She also called on the contract between the bloc and AstraZeneca on 27 August to be published adding that the “binding orders” are "crystal clear.”

Von der Leyen’s comments were echoed by the EC’s vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis who said that the EU must “ensure that companies are meeting their full contractual obligations” on Friday.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen called on the contract between the bloc and AstraZeneca to be published adding that the 'binding orders' are 'crystal clear.' Photo: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images
President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen called on the contract between the bloc and AstraZeneca to be published adding that the 'binding orders' are 'crystal clear.' Photo: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

Speaking during a virtual panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Dombrovskis, said: "Unfortunately, not all pharmaceutical companies have acted in the spirit of full transparency with the EU" for an economy that works for people.

He added that the EU were looking at introducing a new "time limited system to ensure clarity on production and exports in the EU." He said the new rules would only apply to advanced purchase agreements and would not amount to export bans.

The vaccine has not been approved yet in the EU. But the bloc signed a deal in August for 300 million doses, with an option for 100 million more.

The British-Swedish company which has created the vaccine in collaboration with Oxford University is blaming production delays at two plants. The reduction will see deliveries to the EU cut by 60% to 31 million doses in the first quarter of the year. It blamed production problems, meaning the number of initial available doses would be lower than expected.

AstraZeneca was expected to deliver around 80 million doses to the 27 EU nations by the end of March.

The company chief executive Pascal Soriot defended its rollout strategy across the EU amid supply delay issues. Soriot said the EU's late decision to sign contracts had given limited time to sort out supply issues.

Shares in the company were down 1.26% around 9am in London.

Chart: Yahoo Finance
Chart: Yahoo Finance

READ MORE: UK economy hangs in balance amid EU vaccine row

It comes as a jab made by US pharmaceutical company Novavax (NVAX) could become the fourth vaccine approved in Britain after positive data.

Phase 3 trials in the UK of experimental Novavax vaccine, which is given in two doses, showed 89.3% efficiency against the coronavirus. The phase 3 trials — the final stage before a vaccine is looked at by medicine regulators — enrolled more than 15,000 people aged between 18-84, of whom 27% were older than 65, Novavax said.

The study also showed that it was 89% effective at prtecting against the new UK coronavirus variant, offering potential to adapt quickly to mutations.

Prime minister Boris Johnson welcomed the "good news" and said the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Agency (MHRA) would now assess the vaccine.

So far, Britain has ordered 60 million doses of the jab, which will be made in Stockton-on-Tees in north-east England.

The Pfizer (PFE)/BioNTech (BNTX) and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines are already being distributed in the UK, while the Moderna (MRNA) vaccine has been given the green light for use.

7.5 million people across the UK have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, so far in the UK.

WATCH: Novavax appears effective against UK variant

Additional reporting by Oscar Williams-Grut