EU underlines support for new health agency as vaccine stand-off ends

AstraZeneca will now supply an additional nine million COVID vaccine doses to the EU by March as the European Commission reiterated support for the establishment of a new Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA).

The news following a tense stand-off in recent days, and comes after the European Commission was roundly criticised for a threat to put checks on the Northern Ireland border to prevent vaccines produced in the EU from reaching the UK.

Doing so would have been a breach of the Good Friday Agreement as it would have effectively re-established a hard border between the North of Ireland and the Republic.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (above) said on Sunday – after a virtual meeting with the CEOs of vaccine producers including AstraZeneca – that the company will now send a total of 40 million doses in the first quarter of the year and start deliveries one week earlier than scheduled.

It will also expand its manufacturing capacity in Europe.

In a tweet, Ms von der Leyen said AstraZeneca would “deliver 9 million additional doses in the first quarter (40 million in total) compared to last week’s offer & will start deliveries one week earlier than scheduled”.

She said this represented a 30% increase on the previous amount.

Ireland is also to receive another 100,000 doses as a result, according to broadcaster RTE.

The EU signed a deal in August for 300 million AstraZeneca doses, with an option for 100 million more.

It was hoped 80 million would be delivered in the first quarter of 2021 – although other sources had put the figure at 100 million – but AstraZeneca said there were production problems at its Dutch and Belgian plants.

All three companies whose vaccines have now been approved in the EU — BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna and, since Friday, AstraZeneca — had signalled that they cannot fully meet original delivery schedules.

Von der Leyen’s meeting on Sunday included the CEOs of the pharmaceutical companies with which Brussels has signed advance-purchase agreements for vaccines: BionNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Curevac and Sanofi.

“The discussion [with CEOs] explored requirements for very rapid development, manufacturing and regulatory approval of vaccines for COVID-19 variants in the EU,” the Commission said, adding: “It was a very constructive meeting, with numerous practical suggestions.”

After the meeting, the Commission also reiterated plans to create a new agency to help speed up vaccine development and better respond to future pandemics.

The Commission said in a statement the new EU Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) will “deliver a more structured approach to pandemic preparedness,” with the aim of better anticipating threats and how to respond to them, as well as developing vaccines more rapidly.

It was hoped 80 million doses would be delivered in the first quarter of 2021 – although other sources had put the figure at 100 million – but AstraZeneca said there were production problems at its Dutch and Belgian plants.

SHARE: