AstraZeneca’s chief executive has hit back at the EU by saying that “glitches” in the supply of coronavirus vaccines to the bloc are due to it signing its contract three months after the UK.
In an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Pascal Soriot admitted there had been “teething problems” in various regions, including Europe and the UK.
He said: “But the UK contract was signed three months before the European vaccine deal, so with the UK we have had an extra three months to fix all the glitches we experienced.
“As for Europe, we are three months behind in fixing those glitches.”
His words come amid growing European anger towards the pharmaceutical company, which is accused of failing to deliver the promised number of doses of the vaccine it developed with Oxford University.
The EU has said all companies producing COVID vaccines in the EU would have to provide “early notification” when exporting to third countries.
This move could in turn affect the UK’s supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is made in Belgium, but both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said they were confident supply would not be interrupted.
Mr Soriot said his company’s global capacity is about 100 million vaccine doses a month, adding that most vaccines have a capacity of 100 million doses a year.
“Of course, we are ramping up production and Europe is getting 17% of this global production in February for a population that is 5% of the world population…We are in the ramp-up phase and basically it will improve, but it takes time.”
Mr Soriot also blamed “really bad luck”, adding: “Actually, there’s nothing mysterious about it.
“But look, the sites that have the lowest productivity in the network are the sites that are supplying Europe and quite honestly, I mean, we’re not doing it on purpose.
Subscribe to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker
“I’m European, I have Europe at heart… Many people in the management are European. So we want to treat Europe as best we can.
“You know, we do this at no profit, remember? We didn’t go into this to try and make money or whatever. We would like to treat Europe as good as possible. I actually do believe we treated Europe fairly.”
Mr Soriot also said that the UK’s target of vaccinating the top four priority groups by mid-February will be possible.
He said: “By March, the UK will have vaccinated maybe 28 or 30 million people.
“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.”