European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday threatened to block exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine if the European Union does not receive its deliveries first. “We have the option of banning any planned export. This is our message to AstraZeneca: respect your contract with Europe before you start delivering to other countries, ”said Ursula von der Leyen in an interview with German media group Funke.
It’s a new chapter in an already dark period for AstraZeneca. Faced with fears about the dangerousness of its vaccine, which remains suspended in several countries, the company continues to suffer a political offensive from the European Union where it is very late on its deliveries.
A press review this week:
“Safe and efficient”. It was Thursday the conclusion of the European health authority on the vaccine developed against Covid-19 by the Swedish-British laboratory and the University of Oxford. The notice should have been a release. Because, for days, we could no longer use this vaccine in several European countries, including France and Germany.
All were worried about blood problems, sometimes fatal, in a few people who had received the vaccine. Germany, in particular, has noticed an abnormal proportion of cerebral venous thrombosis, which is particularly serious.
Is it related to the vaccine? It is neither proven nor excluded. Above all, even if this were the case, the problems are so rare – a few dozen out of millions of vaccinated – that it is hardly obvious to justify a general blockage.
This is the message sent by the European regulator, then Friday by the World Health Organization (WHO), on a line widely shared in the world of public health.
The damage is done
But, even if the vaccine was quickly relaunched in several countries including Germany, the Scandinavian countries prefer to wait and, in France, the health authorities now want to reserve it for over 55s, because thrombosis is apparently concentrated in the most youth.
For some experts, the damage is done, even if political leaders set an example such as the French Prime Minister who was vaccinated on Friday.
“This will be damaging, it’s obvious: there will be more reluctance,” said immunologist Jean-Daniel Lelièvre to AFP, attached to Paris hospitals (AP-HP), regretting a “panic”.
Another political front
Not without paradox, AstraZeneca is also suffering on the political front, which accuses it of not delivering its vaccines quickly enough. Last year, the laboratory promised the EU up to 360 million doses by mid-2021. Last week he conceded he would only deliver 100 million.
The announcement greatly annoyed Brussels. Commissioner Thierry Breton, in charge of vaccines, spoke of an “unacceptable” situation and warned that AstraZeneca should “be held accountable”. At the height of the conflict, the European Commission announced Thursday a formal notice from the group, a procedure provided for in their contract. The threats brandished on Saturday by Ursula von der Leyen came to end an already complicated week.
For its part, Switzerland has signed a contract for the delivery of 5.3 million doses, but the Swissmedic agency has not yet validated its use in our territory.
How responsible is AstraZeneca for these delays? He mentions “export restrictions”. In other words, he would like to bring vaccines produced outside European soil, where he admits having encountered major production problems, but we are not allowing him to do so.
The laboratory is careful not to accuse a culprit. But official European documents only indicate two external countries of manufacture: the United Kingdom and the United States. According to New York Times, it is these latter which are blocking the export of 30 million AstraZeneca doses even though the vaccine is not yet authorized.
However, the argument is not enough in Brussels, where we notice that other laboratories like Pfizer have resolved their delays and where we suspect AstraZeneca of having promised too much from the start.
Too great a recognized ambition
“There is a specific problem” to the group, accuses a senior European official to AFP, reporting “great suspicion in European circles that AstraZeneca has sold the same doses several times”.
Within the group, we recognize too great an initial ambition but we consider this accusation absurd, stressing that such an attitude would have no interest when AstraZeneca is committed not to make any profit on this vaccine.
Because this black series is difficult to swallow for a group which initially appeared as one of the greatest hopes against the virus, with agreements with developing countries like India, and a vaccine easier to transport than that by Pfizer / BioNTech.
Stock market progress
A haven of peace remains: the stock market, where, despite all its concerns, its title rose by nearly 3% this week. The misfortunes of the vaccine do not worry too much investors, who especially expect a lot from its purchase for forty billion dollars from the American biotech Alexion.