Words by Ellie Doughty

EU leaders are facing criticism over the slow Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine rollout in member states due to supply issues.

Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca have accredited the supply chain problems to manufacturing issues at their plants in Belgium and the Netherlands.

It said the fact that EU contracts were signed in August of last year while the UK signed in May has left less time to resolve issues in the EU supply chain.

Director of Brussels think tank Bruegel Guntram Wolff said “Every week that the lockdown has to be extended because the population isn’t vaccinated and vulnerable means substantial economic costs.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel defended the Union’s approach, and said “All in all, I don’t think anything has gone wrong.”

EU member states are now set to receive a quarter of the 100 million doses expected from AstraZeneca come the end of March.

So far EU member states have collectively provided 3% of the population with a first vaccination dose, compared to 15% in the UK.

The EU vaccination scheme set up in June 2020 was designed to allow the Union to negotiate vaccination purchases on behalf of member states, and encourage equal distribution.

Despite it being optional, all 27 member states opted in.

Former Finnish prime minister Alexander Stubb said that without the EU’s collective scheme approach, “Big states would have swept the doses.”

The EU also ordered 300 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in December of 2020. The company has been unable to supply 12.5 million doses which were promised for the end of the year.

The company temporarily cut deliveries to increase capacity at a plant in Belgium. 

Head of BioNTech, Uğur Şahin, said “the process in Europe certainly didn’t proceed as quickly and straightforwardly as with other countries.”

The European Commission said it has made agreements with five other pharmaceutical companies to purchase vaccines once they pass clinical trials.

Charles Michel, president of the European Council told France’s Europe 1 radio that the EU “can turn to all the legal options at our disposal” in ensuring contracts with pharmaceutical companies are fully maintained.

Picture Credit: U.S. Secretary of Defence

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