EU vaccine chief quotes fable in bizarre remark suggesting bloc will catch UK

AstraZeneca gave EU ’25% of what it agreed’ says Thierry Breton

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The former French finance minister said that after a slow start, an “extremely rapid” increase in European production was now allowing EU nations to step up their own vaccination programmes. He said he was confident the bloc will meet its target of full inoculation for 70 percent of adults by July and predicted ant “an almost normal tourist season” this summer.

AstraZeneca must explain what happened

Thierry Breton

Comparing the EU and UK programmes to “the fable of the tortoise and the hare”, Mr Breton said European programmes were now forging ahead while Britain’s jab campaign appeared to be flagging.

He suggested that the UK should be grateful to the European pharmaceutical workers supplying its vaccine programme.

Mr Breton said Anglo-Swedish drug firm AstraZeneca had agreed that all but one batch of its Covid vaccine produced at a Dutch plant will be now be reserved for European member states rather than sent to Britain.

He insisted “zero” doses made in the EU would be sanctioned for delivery to the UK until AstraZeneca had fulfilled its contract with Brussels.

The Halix plant in Leiden and the Seneffe plant in Belgium have been at the centre of a “vaccine war” between London and Brussels, with the UK insisting it has first claim on AstraZeneca production under the terms of contracts signed last year.

Mr Breton said: “I organised a video teleconference between the CEO of Halix and the CEO of AstraZeneca, and finally the CEO of AstraZeneca recognised that all the production of Halix was planned to support the EU delivery.

“AstraZeneca gave all doses to the UK and only 25 percent of what it was supposed to deliver to us in Europe.

“We are currently investigating the reason. We have some hypotheses. In the contracts, there was nothing about giving them priority.”

He continued: “If a company signs contracts with two companies, there shouldn’t be priorities. AstraZeneca must explain what happened.

“But what I can see is that if AstraZeneca had given us the number of doses promised in the contract, we could be doing better than the UK right now.

“It’s not the end of the world either if we continue to have diversity in the vaccine offer and if we make up for the delay of the first trimester.

“The British depend on European production and that’s why we have the new control mechanism, but the British don’t have to worry, we will deliver the doses.”

The bloc has struggled with its vaccine rollout and continues to lag well behind the UK, where 55.08 doses per 100 people have been administered, almost three times higher than the bloc’s rate of 19.09.

In a public rebuke last month, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the AstraZeneca company: “You fulfil your contract with Europe first before you start delivering to other countries.”

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The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said the bloc had taken delivery of more than 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines that should help the region’s initially sluggish inoculation drive finally gather momentum.

A total of 104 million doses have been sent to countries in the European Union and European Economic Area, working out at 27.7 doses per 100 inhabitants.

That compared to 82 million doses that have been administered to date.

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