Monday, 10 May 2021

EU orders AstraZeneca to divert vaccines from BRITAIN to Europe as job row hits boiling point

THE EU has ordered AstraZeneca to start diverting lifesaving vaccines from British factories to Europe – risking a squeeze on NHS supplies and a major row with No 10.

Brussels' health chief told the drugs giant it must begin sending jabs from its two plants in Oxfordshire and Staffordshire to the continent or risk financial and legal penalties.

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In an extraordinary outburst EU health boss Stella Kyriakides accused the Anglo-Swedish firm of breaching its contract with the bloc by trying to keep the UK's supply chain separate to that of the rest of Europe.

During crisis talks tonight she will push the firm to fill the continent's shortfall of up to 49 million doses by dipping into British production lines.

And EU officials have even vowed to trawl through export data to root out any shipments of vaccines the company may have sent to the UK as their row with it grows increasingly bitter.

Britain has forged ahead with its jabs rollout after moving swiftly and tying up a contract with AstraZeneca for the supply of its jabs a whole three months earlier than Brussels.

But that progress could now be under threat with eurocrats piling pressure on company bosses to "reject the logic of first come first served" and start diverting doses their way.

Ms Kyriakides said the EU's contract with the firm, for up to 400 million doses, names factories in the UK and not using them to supply the bloc is "against the letter and the spirit of our agreement".

She fumed: "In our contract it is not specified that the UK has priority because it signed earlier. There is no such clause."

Asked directly if the EU expects AstraZeneca to shift doses from Britain, she replied: "The UK factories have to deliver."

An EU official added: “If UK plants are working better are we expecting UK plants to deliver doses to the EU? Yes we do.”

But as the row escalated AstraZeneca immediately hit back, insisting the Commission had been heavily involved in drawing up its plans for deliveries to Europe.

A spokesman said: "As each supply chain has been set up to meet the needs of a specific agreement, the vaccine produced from any supply chain is dedicated to the relevant countries or regions and makes use of local manufacturing wherever possible."

Ms Kyriakides said the firm's current offer would see it supply just a quarter of the jabs it promised to Brussels in the first quarter of this year.

EU officials have warned the company it could face financial penalties or legal action, including the possible termination of its contract for non-compliance.

One said: "We are looking at means to recuperate the money."

They are also pushing for the publication of the contract, arguing an interview with its CEO in which he said the drugs giant only has to make "best efforts" to supply the bloc breaches a confidentiality agreement.

An angry Ms Kryiakidies insisted AstraZeneca is obliged stick to a delivery schedule, branding its arguments "neither correct nor acceptable".

Eurocrats have also raised suspicions the firm may have shipped some doses made in Europe and intended for their own stockpile to Britain.

A second official said: “We are looking at the customs data. The customs data does not lie.

“I can see that vaccines were shipped to many country from Europe. You can be assured we will find this information.”

The Commission has faced a barrage of criticism over the bloc's snail-paced delivery of its vaccine programme, with critics openly questioning why the UK has been so much more successful.

Britain has jabbed 7.3 million people so far, dishing out an impressive 10.3 doses per 100 people.

In contrast the whole EU, which has a population seven times larger, has only vaccinated 9.7 million at a rate of just 2.19.

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