The EU says AstraZeneca is contractually obliged to supply coronavirus vaccines from its UK plants to meet delivery pledges to the European bloc, a claim that could unleash potentially explosive post-Brexit political tensions.
Brussels also called on the multinational to agree to publish the jab supply contract between the two, in a further escalation of the bitter row after AstraZeneca’s chief executive strongly defended the company’s position.
The news last week that the company’s deliveries could fall more than 50 per cent short of the EU’s expectations for the coming weeks have laid bare the battle over still-scant Covid-19 vaccine supplies between rich countries.
Asked on Wednesday if the EU expected AstraZeneca to make up for production problems in one of its EU plants by tapping UK facilities, an EU official replied bluntly: “Yes — they are part of our contract.”
The official added: “In the contract, out of four plants, two are located in the UK, which should help us to get the doses we need.”
Another described the delivery shortfalls being proposed by AstraZeneca as “unacceptable”, saying the company was now pledging to deliver only a quarter of what the EU had expected in the first three months of the year.
The EU and AstraZeneca will reconvene for emergency talks later on Wednesday after the vaccine manufacturer last week warned Brussels that it would deliver only a fraction of its targeted Covid-19 shots to the bloc in the first three months of the year because of production problems.
Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca’s chief, had on Tuesday defended the company against increasingly angry allegations from Brussels that the pharma group was failing to meet its delivery commitments.
He told European newspapers in an interview that the supply schedule for the bloc was not a “commitment” by the company but agreed as a “best effort”. He added that the EU had signed its vaccine supply contract three months later than the UK, leaving it less time to sort out production “glitches”.
But EU officials are furious at what some see as an unfair priority given by the company to the UK.
This story is developing . . .