AstraZeneca’s chief executive has said the UK’s target of vaccinating the top four priority groups against COVID-19 by mid-February will be possible.
In an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Pascal Soriot said: “By March, the UK will have vaccinated maybe 28 to 30 million people.
“The prime minister has a goal to vaccinate 15 million people by mid-February, and they’re already at 6.5 million. So they will get there.”
Mr Soriot hit back at the EU by saying that “glitches” in the supply of coronavirus vaccines to the bloc are due to it signing its contract three months after the UK.
He admitted there had been “teething problems” in various regions, including Europe and the UK.
He told the newspaper: “But the UK contract was signed three months before the European vaccine deal, so with the UK we have had an extra three months to fix all the glitches we experienced.
“As for Europe, we are three months behind in fixing those glitches.”
His words come amid growing European anger towards the pharmaceutical company, which is accused of failing to deliver the promised number of doses of the vaccine it developed with Oxford University.
The EU has said all companies producing COVID vaccines in the EU would have to provide “early notification” when exporting to third countries.
This move could in turn affect the UK’s supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is made in Belgium, but both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said they were confident supply would not be interrupted.
Mr Soriot said his company’s global capacity is about 100 million vaccine doses a month, adding that most vaccines have a capacity of 100 million doses a year.
“Of course, we are ramping up production and Europe is getting 17% of this global production in February for a population that is 5% of the world population…We are in the ramp-up phase and basically it will improve, but it takes time.”
Mr Soriot also blamed “really bad luck”, adding: “Actually, there’s nothing mysterious about it.
“But look, the sites that have the lowest productivity in the network are the sites that are supplying Europe and quite honestly, I mean, we’re not doing it on purpose.
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“I’m European, I have Europe at heart… Many people in the management are European. So we want to treat Europe as best we can.
“You know, we do this at no profit, remember? We didn’t go into this to try and make money or whatever. We would like to treat Europe as good as possible. I actually do believe we treated Europe fairly.”
AstraZeneca said last week it would cut supplies to the EU in the first quarter of 2021, citing production problems.
A senior EU official said at the time this meant a 60% reduction to 31 million doses.
In August last year, the bloc agreed to purchase 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine for €750m, with an option for an additional 100 million.
Britain secured 100 million doses in May 2020, costing £84m.
In a separate interview with Die Welt, Mr Soriot said the volumes agreed with the EU were not binding.
“It’s not a commitment we have to Europe, it’s a best effort,” he said.
“The reason why we said that is because Europe wanted to be supplied more or less at the same time as the UK, even though the contract was signed three months later.”
Mr Soriot added that AstraZeneca is working with Oxford University on a vaccine that will target the South African variant of COVID-19.
He told the newspaper: “Having said that, we’re also working on a vaccine with Oxford University that will target the variant.”