EU chief wants to publish AstraZeneca contract Friday

Brussels (AFP) –


Brussels will publish a redacted copy of its contract with drugs giant AstraZeneca on Friday, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said, following a dispute over delays to vaccine deliveries.

"We want to publish it today. We are talking to the company about which parts have to be blacked out," she told German broadcaster Deutschlandfunk on Friday.

AstraZeneca has warned that there will be delays in its delivery of the Covid-19 vaccine, despite what von der Leyen described as a "crystal clear" commitment.

The firm's CEO, Pascal Soriot, has said there have been production glitches in AstraZeneca's plants operated by subcontractors in the EU, and that the contract only called for it to make "best efforts" to hit targets.

But von der Leyen, building on increasingly angry comments from EU officials this week, insisted the contract committed the British-Swedish firm to fixed numbers of vaccines per quarter.

"The 'best effort' applies as long as it was not clear whether they could develop a vaccine. We have passed that time. The vaccine is there," she said.

- 'Their decision' -

The European Medicines Agency is expected to authorise the AstraZeneca vaccine for use later Friday, perhaps limiting it to younger age groups amid concerns that it has not been thoroughly tested on the elderly.

But AstraZeneca was contracted to deliver its drug to EU governments beforehand, to allow a rapid roll out across the bloc, which fears a new wave of infections from Covid-19 variants.

"There are very clear delivery quantities, both for December of last year and for the coming quarters. These are in the contract," von der Leyen said.

AstraZeneca has continued to service its separate British contract, arguing that because that was signed with the UK government three months earlier there had been time to fix production issues for it.

But von der Leyen said that where the vaccines were produced was a matter for the firm, and its UK plants had clearly been part of the plan when it signed with Brussels.

"The company itself gave us four production sites in the contract, two of which are in fact in the UK. That was their decision. They are the ones who have the overview of their production," she said.

"It clearly says the two production sites in the UK. How they end up managing that is up to the company."

One of the plants producing the vaccine in Europe, operated by the US company Thermo Fisher in Seneffe, western Belgium, was inspected this week by Belgian health officials at the European Commission's request.

AstraZeneca has blamed production delays there for its shortfall.

But Brussels is preparing a "transparency and authorisation" mechanism to monitor vaccine exports from the bloc which gives EU member states the power to block shipments not deemed "legitimate".