London | Reliability of its disputed vaccine, bickering with the EU over delivery delays and possible disputes: AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine has turned into a headache for the Anglo-Swedish laboratory.
A few weeks ago, AstraZeneca was applauded for the speed of the development of a vaccine expected as one of the major turning points in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, especially as it is easier to transport and less expensive than rival Pfizer / BioNTech serum.
In addition, the group led by Frenchman Pascal Soriot has promised to provide the vaccine at cost so as not to profit from the pandemic.
Today he finds himself the target of the European Union’s ire for delays in vaccine delivery, and the European authorities have published the contract signed with the laboratory to remind him of his commitment to “produce 300 million doses of vaccine, without benefiting or suffering losses ”.
An inspection of a Belgian factory took place at the request of the European Commission to examine the “drop in yield” argument put forward by the pharmaceutical giant.
Italy has even gone so far as to wave the scarecrow of lawsuits – which would also target Pfizer – to “recover the promised doses”.
These tensions come as AstraZeneca obtained EU authorization for its vaccine on Friday.
The effectiveness of the serum is however questioned by the German authorities for those over 65 years old.
“The deteriorating relations with the European Union could have negative repercussions on the pharmaceutical group,” said the Financial Times on Friday.
“None of the parties emerges in a particularly flattering light” from these dissensions “which shows why the prospect of nationalism around vaccines is worrying”, noted Michael Hewson, analyst at CMC Markets, interviewed by AFP.
In addition, he notes, if the EU “follows through on its threats to block the export” of the vaccine produced on its territory, this could lead to aftershocks in other countries, and in particular in the United Kingdom in case where the country which has just left the European market sees its supply in turn slow down.
The agreement with the EU ensures that AstraZeneca will do “its best” to increase its production capacities, while recalling that compliance with the contract constitutes for it “a legal, valid and binding obligation”, according to the text. published by the Commission, without certain passages.
Even if the group does not make a profit, “it remains a classic contract”, underlines David Greene, partner of the firm Edwin Coe and president of the Law Society of the United Kingdom.
Mr. Greene, interviewed by AFP, underlines that the contract with the EU comes under Belgian law and that this legislation is therefore authentic.
If AstraZeneca does not demonstrate that it “makes the best reasonable efforts” to meet its commitments, it could have breached its contract and risk potential lawsuits, assures the lawyer.
Russ Mold, analyst for the online broker AJ Bell, however puts the financial consequences for the laboratory into perspective: “despite the German questions and the apparent lack of will on the part of the FDA (the American drug authority) to approve the vaccine, a lot of other countries seem to want to continue using it, including the UK ”.
In addition, the fact that the vaccine is sold at a low price “should therefore not have an impact on expected earnings” and a recent decline in the share seems, according to Mr. Mold, to be more linked “to investors’ questions about the ‘contemplated $ 39 billion acquisition of Alexion’.
Susannah Streeter, analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, believes for its part that the race for serum to stem the pandemic has allowed the group to “gain expertise in vaccines, which it lacked until then.”
“Government disputes over supply (…) should not cause lasting damage to its reputation but draw attention to the important contribution of the company to seeing the light at the end of the containment tunnel”, she concludes.