The boss of AstraZeneca has predicted the UK will have vaccinated “maybe 28 or 30 million people” by March amid a row over the slow roll-out of the jab in the European Union.
Pascal Soriot, chief executive of the drugmaker, which developed its shot with Oxford University, gave an optimistic prediction for the UK’s vaccination programme, adding that he expected the UK to hit the target to administer jabs to the top four priority groups by mid-February.
Meanwhile, the European Commission has threatened to impose controls on vaccines after it accused AstraZeneca of failing to give a valid explanation for failing to deliver doses to the bloc.
In the interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Soriot explained that the EU struck a contract with the drugmaker months after Britain, and that the UK “of course said ‘you supply us first’.”
The AstraZeneca-Oxford injection is just one of two approved in the UK to date. The Pfizer vaccine is manufactured in Europe but the bulk of the AstraZeneca jab meant for the UK is manufactured on British soil.
Indicting the UK is edging towards vaccinating around half its population, Soriot said: “By March, the UK will have vaccinated maybe 28 or 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.”
Soriot said that, as with the EU, there had been “teething issues” in the UK supply chain. But the deal with Britain was signed three months ahead of the EU’s, he added.
“So with the UK we have had an extra three months to fix all the glitches we experienced,” he said.
He rejected the suggestion the firm was selling to the highest bidder “because we make no profit everywhere” under the agreement signed with Oxford University.
He explained: “The contract with the UK was signed first and the UK, of course, said ‘you supply us first’, and this is fair enough.
“This vaccine was developed with the UK government, Oxford and with us as well. As soon as we can, we’ll help the EU. I mean, as a company we are half Swedish and half British.
“So, in fact, we’re global, of course, but we are European as much as we are British.”
Soriot also said that the drugmaker is working with Oxford on a vaccine that will target the South African variant of Covid-19.
AstraZeneca said last Friday it would cut supplies to the EU in the first quarter of this year, citing production problems.
A senior EU official said at the time this meant a 60% reduction to 31 million doses for the bloc in the quarter.