‘Solidarity is Failing’: E.U. and U.K. Fight Over Scarce Vaccines

The European Commission is now demanding that AstraZeneca open up its production plans to scrutiny. In an internal document seen by The New York Times, the commission said that the European Union wants to know “which factory produced what and when,” a question that the bloc believes its contract entitles it to have answered.

Britain reached an agreement with AstraZeneca last May to buy tens of millions of doses of the vaccine, when it was still in clinical trials — three months before the European Union arranged its purchases.

Even so, the bloc made the vaccine a centerpiece of its plans, ordering 300 million doses that it planned to distribute to member states based on population size. Several member states eschewed parts of their shares of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are more expensive and harder to store and administer, to plan their strategies around AstraZeneca deliveries.

To ensure it would not be at a disadvantage to other countries in securing orders, European Union officials said that they also agreed in mid-October to pay more than 300 million euros ($360 million) so that AstraZeneca could scale up production capacity.

With deliveries now falling far short, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, on Tuesday demanded a return on the bloc’s investments.

“The companies must deliver,” she said. “They must honor their obligations.”

But Pascal Soriot, the chief executive of AstraZeneca, said in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that his company had never promised to deliver the vaccine to the bloc as fast as it did to Britain.

“Europe at the time wanted to be supplied more or less at the same time as the U.K., even though the contract was signed three months later,” he said. “So we said, ‘OK, we’re going to do our best, we’re going to try, but we cannot commit contractually.’”

Benjamin Mueller reported from London, and Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels. Monika Pronczuk contributed reporting from Brussels, and Melissa Eddy from Berlin.

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