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AstraZeneca spat: Germany threatens to block COVID-19 vaccine exports

AstraZeneca spat: Germany threatens to block COVID-19 vaccine exports

AstraZeneca spat: Germany threatens to block COVID-19 vaccine exports

The EU has issued an angry warning to AstraZeneca after the pharma giant announced an unexpected delay in delivering millions of doses of its coronavirus vaccine to the bloc. The vaccine maker has also dismissed reports casting doubt on its efficacy for older patients.

AstraZeneca in the EU doghouse over vaccine shortfall

AstraZeneca stands accused of failing to give a satisfactory explanation for a huge shortfall in promised vaccine doses. The company’s vaccine against COVID-19 was set to be approved for use within the EU this week, on the understanding that the bloc would receive 100 million doses in the first quarter of 2021. 

But the pharmaceutical company apparently “surprisingly” informed the European Commission on Friday that “reduced yields” in its supply chain meant it could only deliver around half of that, despite the fact that the bloc has made a large advance purchase and co-financed the development and subsequent production of the vaccine, to the tune of 336 million euros. 

Talks with the EU fell apart on Monday, with the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, accusing AstraZeneca of providing “a lack of clarity and insufficient explanations.” She said the developers had to uphold “societal and contractual responsibilities” when it came to delivering vaccines. 

Further discussions are scheduled for later in the week. Kyriakides said the EU “wants to know exactly which Aztrazeneca doses have been produced where, and whether and to whom they have been distributed.” The company has apparently not yet answered these questions satisfactorily, and the EU is suspicious that they may have supplied doses co-financed by the EU to other countries.  

Jens Spahn threatens to block vaccine exports

With all of this going on, Germany’s Federal Health Minister, Jens Spahn, has called for an export restriction for vaccines produced in the EU. “Vaccines that leave the EU need a permit so that we at least know what is being manufactured, what is leaving Europe - and when it leaves Europe, whether there will be a fair distribution,” Spahn told ARD and ZDF

When it comes to delays in delivery, Spahn said he could understand that such a “complex process as vaccine production can sometimes lead to problems,” but said that this should “affect everyone fairly and equally.” It is not, he said, about “EU first, but about Europe’s share, i.e. a fair share.” 

AstraZeneca dismisses reports doubting vaccine’s effectiveness

All in all, it’s been a bad press week for the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company, which on Monday evening also had to repute a number of reports in the German media claiming that the vaccine was as good as ineffective among people aged over 65. 

While business daily Handelsbatt reported that the German government had estimated the efficacy of the jab for older patients at just 8 percent, Bild said that the vaccine would not be licensed for use on elderly patients. Both cited unnamed members of the government.

“Reports that the AstraZeneca / Oxford vaccine efficacy is as low as 8 percent in adults over 65 years are completely incorrect,” an AstraZeneca spokesperson said. “In November, we published data in the Lancet demonstrating that older adults showed strong immune responses to the vaccine, with 100 percent of older adults generating spike-specific antibodies after the second dose.” 

On Tuesday, the Federal Health Ministry released a statement suggesting that the government report in question had mixed up the efficacy rate among seniors with the proportion of over-65s who took part in clinical trials. “At first sight it appears that two things have been muddled in the reports”, the statement read. “Around 8 percent of participants in the AstraZeneca efficacy trials were aged between 56 and 69 years old, only 3 to 4 percent were over 70. This does not result in an efficacy of only 8 percent among seniors.”

Abi

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Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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