Covid vaccine chief says UK comes first for jab amid AstraZeneca EU supply row

Harriet Brewis
·3 min read
<p>Boris Johnson carries doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab</p> (REUTERS)

Boris Johnson carries doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab

(REUTERS)

The UK is first in line for AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine, the head of the pharmaceutical giant has insisted, as he rejected EU calls to block exports of the jab.

Pascal Soriot said Britain was faring better than European nations in its mass vaccination efforts because it was early to sign a contract for 100 million doses of the jab.

Mr Soriot said there had been “teething issues” in the UK supply chain as well but that the deal with Britain was signed three months ahead of the EU’s.

“So with the UK we have had an extra three months to fix all the glitches we experienced,” he explained.

The French pharmaceutical chief rejected the suggestion the firm was selling to the highest bidder “because we make no profit everywhere” under the agreement signed with its partner Oxford University.

His comments came after the European Commission threatened to impose controls on vaccine exports following criticism of a slow rollout in the EU.

European health commissioner Stella Kyriakides accused AstraZeneca of failing to provide a valid explanation for failing to deliver doses to the bloc.

The Pfizer vaccine is manufactured in Europe but the bulk of the AstraZeneca jab meant for the UK is manufactured on British soil.

On Monday night, Ms Kyriakides said conversations with the pharmaceutical firm had resulted in “dissatisfaction” and warned that the EU “will take any action required to protect its citizens and rights”.

Watch: COVID-19 vaccine - AstraZeneca will meet EU on Wednesday after dissonance over rumoured cancellation

She said in a broadcast address that an “export transparency mechanism” will be installed “as soon as possible”.

“In the future, all companies producing vaccines against Covid-19 in the EU will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries,” she added.

But the following day, Boris Johnson said he had “total confidence” in the UK’s supplies despite the threats.

The Prime Minister told a Downing Street press briefing that the delivery of vaccines was a “multinational effort” and the UK would continue to work with European partners.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi had also said he was confident that the UK would continue to receive its deliveries of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab.

Asked whether the EU could prevent Pfizer vials leaving its borders, Mr Zahawi told Sky News: “No, I’m confident that the Pfizer vaccine will be delivered.

“Pfizer have made sure that they have always delivered for us, they will continue to do so.

“They have made a very important announcement on the equitable supply of the whole world, including the European Union, and I’m sure they will deliver for the European Union, the United Kingdom and for the rest of the world.”

Mr Zahawi admitted that supplies of vaccines “are tight”, telling BBC Breakfast: “It’s lumpy and bumpy, it gets better and stabilises and improves going forward.”

But he declined to spell out that he had received guarantees of the number of doses the UK would receive from Pfizer.

Meanwhile, Mr Soriot offered an optimistic prediction for the UK’s rollout, saying: “By March, the UK will have vaccinated maybe 28 or 30 million people."

He told Italian newspaper La Repubblica: “The Prime Minister has a goal to vaccinate 15 million people by mid-February, and they’re already at 6.5 million. So they will get there.”

Watch: Global COVID-19 cases surpass 100 million

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