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Coronavirus: AstraZeneca defends against vaccine allegations amid EU tit-for-tat over Pfizer jab

AstraZeneca can only deliver half of the doses promised for the first quarter but officials said the explanations were insufficient

AstraZeneca - Coronavirus: EU warns vaccine exports cut amid row with AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca PLC (LON:AZN) said reports on low COVID-19 vaccine efficacy in the elderly are "completely incorrect" based on trial results published in the previous months.

German papers Handelsblatt and Bild published stories that suggested the jab's efficacy was as low as 8% in adults over 65 years.

"In the UK, the JCVI supported use in this population and MHRA included this group without dose adjustment in the authorisation for emergency supply," a spokesperson told Proactive.

"In November, we published data in The Lancet demonstrating that older adults showed strong immune responses to the vaccine, with 100% of older adults generating spike-specific antibodies after the second dose.”

The German health ministry also said the claims were unfounded, the Independent reported.

Row over supplies

Meanwhile, the EU warned it will tighten exports of COVID-19 vaccines to non-member countries, such as the UK, amid a row with AstraZeneca.

The drugmaker was meant to provide 80mln doses of the jab in the first quarter of 2021 but informed the bloc on Friday that there would be significant shortfalls on the schedule and it would be able to deliver around half of the agreed quantities.

On Monday, commission president Ursula von der Leyen told the FTSE 100 firm’s chief executive Pascal Soriot the company must meet its contractual obligations.

“She made it clear that she expects AstraZeneca to deliver on the contractual arrangements foreseen in the advance purchasing agreement,” a spokesperson told The Guardian.

“Of course, production issues can appear with the complex vaccine, but we expect the company to find solutions and to exploit all possible flexibilities to deliver swiftly.”

The two parties are meeting again on Wednesday to continue discussion while the European Medicines Agency is expected to approve the inoculation later this week.

The row comes amid a fall in supplies of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine too, which are slowing down the European rollout.

Nonetheless, vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi said he is confident the UK will meet its target of administering the first dose of a jab to 15mln people in the top priority groups by mid-February.

"Supplies are tight… It's lumpy and bumpy, it gets better and stabilises and improves going forward," he told the BBC.

However, he declined to say whether manufacturers have guaranteed they will supply the number of doses previously agreed.

Analysts at UBS said the explanation offered by AstraZeneca seems credible because vaccine manufacturing is a complex process especially when it comes to new technologies and yield drops can happen.

“Batches need to be released one by one by authorities and it is possible that manufacturing variabilities lead to batches being rejected,” they noted.

“AZN claims it is able to produce up to 3bn doses in 2021 via a decentralised network. Roughly half of the volume is being produced by collaborators like the Serum Institute in India.”

“We don't have any detail on the specifics per manufacturing sites but hopefully this strategy means the yield drops in one location do not have ramifications more broadly. The lack of buffer inventory and fixed cycle times, however, likely means there is little slack in the network that could capture drops in yields and make up for lost volume.”

Shares in the pharma giant were trading 1% higher at 7,996p on Tuesday morning.

--Adds details on German media reports--

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