BRUSSELS (Reuters) -AstraZeneca has told the European Union that it has no legal obligations to Britain or other buyers that would prevent the full supply of COVID-19 doses under its contract with the EU, a European Commission spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
Her comments at a news conference contradict statements made by British Health Minister Matt Hancock, who has repeatedly said the Anglo-Swedish firm has an exclusive deal with Britain that would justify prioritisation of supplies to the United Kingdom.
“AstraZeneca confirmed to us not being under any obligation to other parties that would impede to complete the fulfilment of its obligations” to the EU, the Commission spokeswoman said when asked about Hancock’s statements.
Her statement repeated the main points of article 13.1 of the EU contract with AstraZeneca, under which the company agreed not to have any contractual obligations that would limit its ability to meet EU commitments.
A spokesman for AstraZeneca said “the EU supply chain is overwhelmingly for the EU”. He did not comment on whether UK factories named in the European Union contract were part of the EU supply chain.
The EU has launched talks with AstraZeneca under a dispute resolution mechanism included in its contract after the company said it would aim to deliver only 100 million doses by the end of June, instead of 300 million committed to in the EU contract.
The spokeswoman said talks with AstraZeneca were about making sure the company “make(s) full use of its supply lines and plants which are identified in our contract” to meet its obligations to the 27-country EU.
Under the EU contract, AstraZeneca committed to supplying vaccines produced in four European factories, two of which are in Britain: Oxford Biomedica and Cobra Biologics.
Britain has so far exported no AstraZeneca vaccines to the EU, despite EU calls for access to doses produced there.
A third factory, run by AstraZeneca’s sub-contractor Halix in the Netherlands, is also listed in the EU contract as a supplier of vaccines, but Britain says it is entitled to get doses from there too.
Despite having committed to delivering many more doses to the EU than to Britain by the end of March, AstraZeneca has so far shipped more vaccines to the UK than to the 27 EU countries combined, public data show.
The EU has blamed big shortfalls of AstraZeneca doses for its slow vaccine roll-out, which is lagging far behind those in former member Britain and the United States.
Many European countries briefly stopped using the shot earlier this month while investigating rare cases of blood clots but resumed when the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said benefits of AstraZeneca’s vaccine outweighed the risks.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Editing by Catherine Evans)