A row has erupted between the European Union, Britain and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca over the supply of coronavirus vaccines.
Here’s what we know about the dispute and its potential implications:
WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF THE PROBLEM
AstraZeneca’s initial deliveries to the EU will fall short because of a production glitch – said to be at a hub in Belgium – and it will not be able to meet its supply targets for the first three months of this year.
The Anglo-Swedish company announced initial deliveries in the EU would total approximately 31 million doses, rather than the anticipated 80 million in the first quarter of the year.
With the speed of the UK’s vaccine rollout outstripping other European countries, the EU has suggested doses produced in Europe have been directed elsewhere.
EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has now called for an explanation from AstraZeneca for delivery hold-ups, as she insisted the supply orders are “binding” and “the contract is crystal clear”.
WHAT ELSE HAS THE EU SAID?
EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides has accused AstraZeneca of a “lack of clarity” and “insufficient explanations”, adding “the answers of the company have not been satisfactory” following a meeting on Monday.
She has proposed forcing all drug-makers to register their Covid-19 vaccine exports in advance, so the bloc can keep track of what they are doing.
HOW HAS ASTRAZENECA RESPONDED?
The company’s chief executive Pascal Soriot said the contract only committed to meet the EU’s demands to its “best effort”.
In an interview with Italy’s la Repubblica newspaper published on Tuesday, he said the delay was partly because the bloc signed its contract three months later than the UK, and therefore EU manufacturing facilities were still catching up.
He explained that AstraZeneca and its partner Oxford University had signed a deal with the UK Government for 100 million doses three months before the EU deal for 400 million doses was agreed.
WILL UK SUPPLIES BE AFFECTED?
The majority of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine supply for the UK is manufactured in Britain rather than at the Belgium plant so it is not expected to be disrupted.
But the EU’s threat to impose new rules on all vaccine manufacturers would affect access to the Pfizer vaccine, which is produced in Belgium.
The UK is scheduled to receive 3.5 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine over the next three weeks.
HOW MANY DOSES HAS THE UK ORDERED?
The UK Government has so far secured 40 million doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, 100 million of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab and 17 million from Moderna – the most-recently approved vaccine but supplies of it are not expected to arrive until spring.
The UK has also secured 60 million doses of the Novavax jab with the hope that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency will approve it for use within weeks.
HOW MANY DOSES DOES THE UK CURRENTLY HAVE ?
The UK Government has not published figures publicly on how many doses are currently available.
During his visit to Scotland on Thursday, the Prime Minister was asked about the possibility of more data being published.
He said: “We’re in favour of the maximum possible transparency that is compatible with security of supply. That’s the crucial thing, we’ve got to ensure we continue to have national security of supply.”
HOW IS THE ROLLOUT PROGRESSING IN THE UK?
As of Thursday, official figures showed 7,447,199 people in the UK had received a first dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines.