EU heaps pressure on AstraZeneca to fulfil vaccine deal

The director of the European Medicines Agency expressed frustrations at the delay and said she hopes the problem will be short-lived 
EU heaps pressure on AstraZeneca to fulfil vaccine deal

On Friday, AstraZeneca said they plan to change a pre-agreed delivery schedule, and it has emerged this could mean a significantly smaller shipment for all EU countries, including Ireland. Picture: PA

Another EU body has added to the pressure on AstraZeneca to deliver shipments of the Covid-19 vaccine on time, as the director of the European Medicine Agency said she hopes the problem will be “short-lived”.

Speaking to an EU parliamentary committee, Emer Cooke also said studies have shown existing vaccines offer protection against the UK variant of the virus, and possibly against the South African variant.

On Friday, AstraZeneca said they plan to change a pre-agreed delivery schedule, and it has emerged this could mean a significantly smaller shipment for all EU countries, including Ireland.

This has caused outrage in the EU as the company is understood to have received an up-front payment of over €300m to assist with production.

Delay fears

European Medicine Agency (EMA) director Emer Cooke said today: "We are in contact with the companies in order to solve the issue of supply .. we hope the problems will be short-lived."

Ms Cooke was addressing the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and a number of MEPs raised fears about the impact of any delay. Responding to their sometimes emotional questions, she said; " I share your frustrations." 

The EMA is expected to give approval for European use to AstraZeneca by Friday.

Ms Cooke said this is still on track, despite the disagreement over shipping. She said: “We expect this will be published this week.”

MEP for Ireland South Mick Wallace asked about communication between the EMA and the UK regulator, saying Britain used an EU regulation to grant emergency use of AstraZeneca.

Ms Cooke, from Dublin originally, said they are in contact but insisted that using the full approval process was the appropriate thing to do.

She said the EMA is still receiving data from AstraZeneca which adds to their understanding.

“We can be confident that the processes we use offer us a robust scientific view that can be relied on in all 27 member states,” she said.

MEP for Ireland South Billy Kelleher asked if the EMA has enough staff to manage its workload, noting the EMA is behind authorities like the American FDA for approval for these vaccines.

She said active recruitment is going on for specialised staff.

And Ms Cooke confirmed that in-vitro testing on the Moderna and PfizerBioNTech vaccines has indicated they will work against the new UK variant.

It is an issue on everybody’s mind, how will the vaccine react to these new variants … the vaccines will continue to be effective against at least the UK variant, the South African variant is more complex and we need more work on this.

The EMA is also however looking at what regulatory changes would be needed if any company with approval needs to alter their vaccine to protect against future strains.

She was asked about reports from Germany which appeared to indicate AstraZeneca would be approved for some age-groups and not others.

However as the EMA approval process is ongoing she could not comment directly. She said: “It is possible to conclude authorisation to focus on a particular age-group or a wider age-group.”

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