EU and AstraZeneca resolve COVID-19 vaccine supply spat

Resourceful or risky-The UKs controversial COVID-19 vaccine strategy

AstraZeneca's legal dispute with the European Commission over a shortfall in the supply of COVID-19 vaccines promised by the company earlier this year has been settled in advance of court proceedings.

Under the terms, AZ has agreed to deliver 60 million doses of its Vaxzevria vaccine to the EU by the end of this month, rising to 200 million doses by the end of March 2022. EU member states will get regular delivery schedules and rebates will be applied if any doses are missed.

Earlier this year, the Commission was incensed after AZ said it could only deliver less than half of an agreed 90 million-dose supply deal to the EU in the first quarter of the year, at a time when the EU vaccination drive was struggling to gather momentum.

A series of acrimonious exchanges followed, with Commission and EU leaders variously accusing the pharma company of preferentially supplying the UK, threatening to block exports of Vaxzevria produced at EU facilities, and questioning the efficacy and safety of the vaccine.

The bloc also disputed AZ's argument that the supply contract only required the company to make its "best effort" towards meeting agreed delivery targets on time. The row had been scheduled for first hearings in a Brussels court later this month.

Ruud Dobber, head of AZ's biopharmaceuticals unit, said the company was "pleased that we have been able to reach a common understanding which allows us to move forward and work in collaboration with the European Commission to help overcome the pandemic".

He added: "We are fully committed to manufacture Vaxzevria for Europe following the release for supply of more than 140 million doses to date at no profit."

To date, AZ says it has supplied more than 1.1 billion doses of Vaxzevria to more than 170 countries. The company has made a net loss on the effort while other vaccine suppliers have raked in billions of dollars in profits.

The EU has since thrown its resources behind other jabs – particularly Pfizer/BioNTech's Comirnaty – to get its programme back on track, even though the others are more expensive.

It said the AZ supply would be used to help some member states with lower rates to catch up, while some would be sent to lower-income countries outside the EU as part of the COVAX scheme.

In total, the company will provide the EU with 300 million doses – the figure initially agreed when it signed the contract with the Commission last August.