Tensions rise as AstraZeneca and EU hold talks on vaccine delivery

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BRUSSELS (AP) – The dispute between the European Union and AstraZeneca escalated on Wednesday, with the Anglo-Swedish drug maker denying the EU’s claim it had withdrawn from negotiations over vaccine supply .

AstraZeneca said in a statement that it still plans to meet with EU officials in Brussels later today. The comments came after EU officials said the company informed the bloc it would not be attending a meeting to discuss the delayed vaccine commitments – the third of those talks in as many days.

“The representative of AstraZeneca had announced this morning, had informed us this morning, that their participation is not confirmed, does not happen,” said Dana Spinant, the spokesperson for the European Commission.

The row between AstraZeneca and the EU has raised concerns over vaccine nationalism, as countries desperately want to end the pandemic and return to normalcy due to the limited supply of the precious vaccines.

The latest disagreement between the two sides came after AstraZeneca dismissed the EU’s accusation that the company had failed to honor its commitments to provide vaccines against the coronavirus. AstraZeneca said its contract figures with the EU were targets that could not be met due to problems with the rapid expansion of production capacity.

Managing Director Pascal Soriot made the comments in an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica after days of criticism from European executives furious at news that AstraZeneca’s initial shipments were lower than expected.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker said last week that it plans to cut initial EU deliveries to 31 million doses from 80 million due to reduced efficiency in the manufacturing process.

“Our contract is not a contractual commitment,” Soriot said. “It’s a better effort. Basically we said we were going to do our best, but we can’t guarantee that we will be successful. In fact, to get there, we are a little late.

AstraZeneca said in a statement that it understands and shares “the frustration that the initial supply volumes of our vaccine delivered to the European Union are lower than expected.”

On Monday, the EU threatened to impose strict export controls on COVID-19 vaccines made in the bloc within days.

The EU, which has 450 million citizens and the economic and political influence of the world’s largest trading bloc, lags far behind countries like Israel and Britain in rolling out coronavirus vaccines for its healthcare workers and the most vulnerable. And this despite more than 400,000 confirmed virus deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The shortfall in planned deliveries of the AstraZeneca vaccine comes at the same time as a slowdown in the distribution of injections from Pfizer-BioNTech as this company modernizes the production facilities of a factory in Belgium.

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Kirka reported from London.

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