EU agrees first COVID-19 vaccine deal with AstraZeneca in WHO blow

The EU has agreed to buy at least 300 million doses of AstraZeneca’s potential COVID-19 vaccine in its first such advance purchase deal. (File/AFP)
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Updated 14 August 2020

EU agrees first COVID-19 vaccine deal with AstraZeneca in WHO blow

  • The EU said over the past two weeks it was in advanced talks with Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi for their vaccines under development
  • The EU agreement follows an initial deal with AstraZeneca reached in June by Europe’s Inclusive Vaccines Alliance

BRUSSELS: The European Union has agreed to buy at least 300 million doses of AstraZeneca’s potential COVID-19 vaccine in its first such advance purchase deal, which could weaken plans led by the World Health Organization for a global approach.
The European Commission, which is negotiating on behalf of all 27 EU member states, said the deal included an option to purchase 100 million additional doses from the British drugmaker should its vaccine prove safe and effective.
The EU’s bilateral deal mirrors moves by the United States and other wealthy states, some of which are critical of the WHO’s initiative, and further reduces the potentially available stock in the race to secure effective COVID-19 vaccines.
The EU agreement follows an initial deal with AstraZeneca reached in June by Europe’s Inclusive Vaccines Alliance (IVA), a group formed by France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands to secure vaccine doses for all member states.
The Commission did not disclose the terms of the new deal and declined to say whether it had replaced the IVA’s.
“This new agreement will give all EU member states the option to access the vaccine in an equitable manner at no profit during the pandemic,” AstraZeneca said in a statement.
The EU executive said its deals are aimed at financing part of the upfront costs to develop vaccines. The funding would be partial down-payments to secure the shots, but actual purchases would be decided at a later stage by each EU state.
The EU said over the past two weeks it was in advanced talks with Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi for their vaccines under development .
The EU move could make more difficult efforts led by the WHO and GAVI, a global alliance for vaccines, to buy shots on behalf of rich and developing countries with a separate scheme.
The Commission has urged EU states to shun the WHO-led initiative because it sees it as too expensive and slow, EU officials told Reuters in July.
Now the Commission is openly saying that vaccines bought from AstraZeneca, and from other vaccine makers, could be donated to poorer states, effectively taking on the very task that the WHO is pursuing with the so-called ACT-Accelerator Hub.
Brussels has publicly said that its purchasing scheme is complementary to the WHO’s, but in private told EU states that there may be legal issues if they joined the WHO program.


UK science advisers warn public on COVID-19 rates

Updated 1 min 2 sec ago

UK science advisers warn public on COVID-19 rates

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson huddled with ministers over the weekend to discuss how the government will respond to the recent rise in cases
  • The UK reported a seven-day average of 21 deaths a day last week
LONDON: Britain’s top medical adviser says the country has, in a “very bad sense,” turned a corner on COVID-19 infection rates, with figures suggesting there will be an exponential growth in the disease unless action is taken.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty told the public on Monday that rates are going in the “wrong direction” amid expectations the government is preparing to announce new measures to control the pandemic.
“We have in a very bad sense, literally turned a corner,” after weeks of increasing infection rates.
Whitty said that if nothing is done, new infections will rise to 49,000 a day by mid-October. Hospitalizations are also doubling in seven to eight days — leading to more deaths.
There was also no indication that the virus had lessened in severity, he said. “We see no evidence that this is true.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson huddled with ministers over the weekend to discuss how the government will respond to the recent rise in cases, which has pushed infection rates to levels last seen in May. Later this week the government is expected to announce a slate of short-term restrictions that will act as a “circuit breaker” to slow the spread of the disease.
The government is hoping to keep that number from climbing back to the peak levels of early April, when more than 5,000 cases a day were being reported.
While death rates have remained relatively low so far, public health officials warn that deaths are likely to rise in coming weeks.
The UK reported a seven-day average of 21 deaths a day last week, compared with a peak of 942 on April 10.
The government last week imposed tighter restrictions on communities in northeastern England, where the infection rate first began to rise. Bars and restaurants in those areas must now close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and people are prohibited from socializing with individuals from other households.
The rise in infection rates comes as lawmakers across the political spectrum criticize the government’s testing program. While government ministers tout the record numbers of tests being performed, there are widespread reports of people having to travel hundreds of miles for tests and tests being voided because it is taking labs too long to process them.
An effective testing program is seen as essential to controlling the pandemic because it allows the government to track infections and inform people when they should self-isolate.