The European Commission has issued a strongly worded statement demanding that the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca spells out what Covid-19 vaccine doses it has produced and to whom they have been delivered, as the controversy over the disruption to vaccine supplies deepens.
A statement by the EU Health Commissioner appears to suggest that the Commission believes that vaccine doses produced by AstraZeneca that were destined for EU member states may have gone elsewhere.
Stella Kyriakides said: "The EU wants to know exactly which doses have been produced whereby AstraZeneca so far, and if, or to whom, they have been delivered."
She also warned that the EU will demand tighter controls of Covid-19 vaccine doses leaving the EU.
Ms Kyriakides said: "We want clarity on transactions and full transparency concerning the export of vaccines from the EU.
"In the future, all companies producing vaccines against Covid-19 in the EU will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries."
Discussions with @AstraZeneca today resulted in dissatisfaction with the lack of clarity and insufficient explanations. EU Member States are united: vaccine developers have societal and contractual responsibilities they need to uphold.— Stella Kyriakides (@SKyriakidesEU) January 25, 2021
She added: "The EU wants the ordered and prefinanced vaccines delivered as soon as possible and we want our contract to be fully fulfilled.
"In addition the Commission has proposed to the 27 member states... that an export transparency mechanism will be put in place as soon as possible."
Ms Kyriakides said answers provided by AstraZeneca during today's meeting with the so-called Steering Board of member state health officials and the European Commission were "not satisfactory."
A further meeting will take place this evening.
The controversy began on Friday when AstraZenca revealed manufacturing difficulties in the European supply chain that meant a shortfall in the delivery of vaccines.
The European Medicines Agency is due to authorise the use of the vaccine on Friday, and supplies were due to start moving to member states shortly after that.
This morning the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen spoke by phone to the CEO of AstraZeneca, Pascal Soriot.
A spokesman for President von der Leyen said: "She made it clear she expects AstraZeneca to deliver the contractual arrangements foreseen in the advanced purchasing agreement."
"She made it clear she expects AstraZeneca to deliver on the contractual arrangements foreseen in the advanced purchasing agreement," commission spokesman Eric Mamer said.
"She reminded Mr Soriot that the EU has invested significant amounts in the company upfront precisely to ensure production is ramped up even before the conditional market authorisation is delivered by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
"Of course, production issues can appear with a complex vaccine but we expect the company to find solutions and to exploit all possible flexibilities to deliver swiftly."
Representatives of AstraZeneca are to hold a virtual meeting today with the Steering Board, made up of health officials from the member states and the European Commission.
Earlier, the World Health Organization's Special Envoy on Covid-19 said he understands people's frustration and disappointment that there are shortfalls in AstraZeneca supplies, but that vaccine production is not straightforward and this is "part of what happens".
These shortfalls usually mean that some effort is being made to improve the quality of production, Dr David Nabarro said.
Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, he said there will be batches or production lines that prove to be not working properly, and this must be accepted as part of reality.
He warned there will be breaks in supply and it will not be a perfect process.
Meanwhile, the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine appears to protect against variants of the virus identified in the UK and South Africa, the company claimed today.
It said that initial laboratory tests found that antibodies activated by the vaccine, can detect and fight the new variants.
Further research will be needed into the development.