02:52 GMT03 March 2021
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    Top EU body the European Commission has demanded that AstraZeneca divert supplies produced at its British facilities to honour a 100-million-dose order of coronavirus vaccines before resuming deliveries to the UK, whose inoculation programme is miles ahead of Europe's.

    The European Union's demand for AstraZenenca to divert COVID-19 jabs from the UK to the bloc is on shaky ground following the release of the contract.

    The redacted text of the Anglo-Swedish drug company's deal with the European Commission, published on Friday, shows a key clause absolves the firm from responsibility for late deliveries as a result of honouring prior orders — such as its one with the UK government.

    "To the extent AstraZeneca’s performance under this Agreement is impeded by any such competing agreements, AstraZeneca shall not be deemed in breach of this Agreement as a result of any such delay due to the aforementioned competing agreement(s)”, Clause 6.2 of the contract reads.

    The commission is in dispute with AstraZeneca since the firm has only delivered 25 million of an order of 100 million of its Oxford University-developed vaccine, which it supplies at zero-profit cost price.

    The pharmaceutical firm's CEO Pascal Soriot explained earlier this week that there had been problems scaling-up production of the brand new product at its culturing facilities in Belgium and the Netherlands. The commission in turn demanded that supplies from the firm's sites in Wrexham, Wales, and Oxford, England be sequestered to rapidly fill the order.

    EU spokesman Eric Mamer claimed the contract covers AstraZeneca plants in the UK and that "these plants will contribute to the effort... to deliver doses to the European Union".

    AstraZeneca is required to use its "best reasonable efforts" to manufacture 300 million "Initial Europe Doses" within the territory of the European Union to facilitate rapid distribution. AstraZeneca "may manufacture the Vaccine in non-EU facilities", if appropriate to speed delivery.

    Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told Germany's DLF radio earlier on Friday that the "crystal clear" contract contained "binding orders". On Wednesday, she ordered a surprise swoop on AstraZeneca's Belgian plant to check whether the firm was holding back any supplies.

    Post-Brexit Britain's coronavirus immunisation programme is proceeding five times faster than the centrally-run efforts of the 27 EU member states, raising questions about von der Leyen's management. Her insistence on centralised procurement delayed placing orders with AstraZeneca for three months, while the UK had already negotiated a huge deal for the experimental jab. 

    Ironically, the EU's European Medicines Agency (EMA) has yet to even approve the Oxford vaccine for use in the bloc, while Germany's Vaccine Commission said on Thursday that it should not be given to over-65s — a priority group at most risk from the deadly virus.

    The commission will reportedly reveal details later on Friday of its plan to restrict exports of vaccines produced in the bloc to non-EU countries, including the far more expensive and harder to store Pfizer vaccine that the 27 nations have so far relied on.

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    Tags:
    European Commission, European Union (EU), AstraZeneca, Vaccines, coronavirus, COVID-19
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