AstraZeneca CEO discusses the European Commission vaccine feud

vaccine feud, soriot
© Sergei Babenko

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot spoke to Antonello Guerrera about the ongoing vaccine feud – with the Commission receiving 60% less than expected, raising tense questions about why

The European Commission accused the drugmaker of diverting their promised vaccine supply elsewhere, for a more lucrative deal. In response, AstraZeneca vehemently denied this and pointed to “production” limitations.

Currently, Italy and Latvia want to sue the company for the supply cut. The EU have proposed a transparency mechanism in response.

The EU remains under strict pressure to speed up a slow vaccine rollout. Israel dominates in the global table of quickest inoculation speed and the US follows far behind them, with individual EU States and the UK somewhere behind that.

Talks between the two parties have been stilted ever since this accusation came to light. Today, an expected steering board meeting between both has been cancelled by AstraZeneca.

What does the CEO of AstraZeneca think?

CEO Pascal Soriot recently broke his silence, with an intensive interview published yesterday (26 January) on Repubblica. He spoke exclusively to Antonello Guerrera, revealing his perspective of the ongoing vaccine feud.

Explaining production problems in the EU

“So maybe I need to give you a little bit of explanation as to how we manufacture those vaccines. Essentially, we have cell cultures, big batches, 1000-litre or 2000-litre batches. We have cell cultures inside those batches and we inject them with the virus, the vaccine, if you will. Then those cells produce the vaccine, it’s a biotechnology protection.
“Now, some of those batches have very high yield and others have low yield. Particularly in Europe, we had one site with large capacity that experienced yield issues. So it’s essentially a question of when you scale up to the level we are scaling up to –  something like this that’s never been done.”

Explaining why the UK will receive their expected doses

“We’ve had also teething issues like this in the UK supply chain. 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.
“Would I like to do better? Of course. But, you know, if we deliver in February what we are planning to deliver, it’s not a small volume.”

Dismissing the accusation of targeting the EU

“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. I’m European, I have Europe at heart. Our chairman is Swedish, is European. Our CFO is European. 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.”

The CEO acknowledged the transparency move from the EU

“So, governments are under pressure. Everybody is getting kind of a bit, you know, aggravated or emotional about those things. But I understand because the Commission is managing the process for the whole of Europe.
“We’re certainly not taking vaccines away from the Europeans to sell it somewhere else at the profit. It would not make sense, honestly.”


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