Pascal Soriot, managing director of AstraZeneca.

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Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca, has defended the late launch of the coronavirus vaccine in the EU, saying the drug company is working “around the clock” to fix production problems. However, he also noted that the EU ordered three months later than the UK, which meant it was behind in addressing supply issues.

The EU has reacted angrily at a delay in AstraZeneca’s delivery of coronavirus vaccines to the bloc, which the European Medicines Agency is expected to approve later this week.

The 27-strong bloc expected around 80 million doses of the sting by the end of March, but will reportedly only receive around 31 million doses. With member states struggling to gain access to vaccines and rollout bursts, the EU has announced it will limit exports of EU-made Covid-19 vaccines.

Speaking to Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Soriot said delays in the delivery of his coronavirus vaccine were caused by a variety of production issues.

“We think we solved these issues, but we are basically two months behind where we wanted to be,” he said

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker had also seen “such teething troubles in the British supply chain,” noted Soriot, but when the British deal was signed three months before the European vaccine deal, the company had “three additional months to fix any glitches that we have experienced. “

However, AstraZeneca continued to plan to deliver most of the vaccines promised to the EU in February. “But if we deliver what we want to deliver in February, it’s not a small volume. We are planning to deliver millions of cans to Europe, it’s not small,” he told the newspaper.

A Brazilian doctor will voluntarily receive an injection in July 2020 as part of phase 3 studies with a vaccine developed by Oxford University and the UK pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

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When asked what amount the EU could expect, Soriot said that once the vaccine is approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), “we will ship at least 3 million doses to Europe immediately, then we will have another shipment.” about a week later and then in the third or fourth week of February. The goal is to dispense 17 million cans by February. “

“It’s not as good as we’d like it to be, but it’s really not that bad,” he said. Globally, Soriot said production capacity would be 100 million cans as of February.

Anger in the EU

Talks between AstraZeneca and the EU took place on Monday. Afterward, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the discussions “have led to dissatisfaction with the lack of clarity and inadequate explanations”.

The EU has asked AstraZeneca to provide a detailed plan for vaccine delivery and timing of distribution. Further discussions are scheduled for Wednesday.

Some countries, including Italy, have threatened legal action against AstraZeneca for the delay. Others have asked why the UK, which relies heavily on the AstraZeneca surge to introduce vaccinations, has pushed ahead with its vaccination campaign and has not yet experienced supply shortages. It has immunized more than 6.8 million people with at least a first two-dose dose of the vaccine.

Soriot said the UK manufacturing facility was more productive and insisted that there was no anti-EU context.

“Firstly, we have different plants and they have different yields and different productivity. One of the highest yielding plants is in the UK because it started earlier. It also had its own problems, but we solved them all. Good productivity, but it’s the UK plant because it started earlier. “

“We don’t do it on purpose. I am European, I have Europe in my heart. Our chairman is Swede, is European. Our CFO is European. Many leaders are European. That is why we want to treat Europe as the best.” we can.”

He noted that the drug company had a “best effort” contract with the EU as it wanted to be delivered at the same time as the UK, even though it was later to request the vaccine. “By the way, we have not made a commitment to the EU. It is not an obligation that we have for Europe. It is a great effort.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson poses for a photo with a vial of the vaccine candidate Covid-19 from the University of AstraZeneca / Oxford.

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Scaling and production problems

With a coronavirus vaccine developed, clinically tested, and approved in less than a year, Soriot said it was natural for the scaling-up process to interfere.

“We’re scaling up to hundreds of millions, billions of doses of vaccines at a very fast rate. We didn’t have a vaccine a year ago. If you do that, you have glitches, you have scale-up problems.” He added that there were currently problems with the production of the vaccine substance in two European plants.

“For Europe, the active ingredient is essentially manufactured in two plants, one in the Netherlands and one in Belgium. The drug is actually manufactured in Italy and Germany. So from a drug point of view, we have full capacity. We have no problem.” The current problems have to do with the manufacture of the drug’s substance, “he said.