The EU has lagged behind other political bodies in the race to wrap up deals for vaccines against the pandemic coronavirus. Recently split from the EU, the UK has struck deals to buy 340 million doses and secured options to purchase still more. Across the Atlantic, the US government has entered into deals worth more than $10 billion as part of a strategy designed to deliver at least 300 million doses by January.
Things have moved more slowly in the EU. While the Inclusive Vaccines Alliance made up of France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands entered into a 400 million dose agreement with AstraZeneca in June, the European Commission began the second week of August without any deals in place.
That changed late last week when AstraZeneca concluded an agreement with the Commission to supply up to 400 million doses of its AZD1222 COVID-19 vaccine. The agreement builds on the June pact AstraZeneca entered into with the Inclusive Vaccines Alliance.
The Commission agreement will give all EU member states the option to access AZD1222 at cost. The deal also permits EU member states to redirect doses to other European countries.
AstraZeneca is aiming to deliver the first doses by the end of the year. With that objective in mind, the company is set to start production of AZD1222 in its European supply chain soon.
News of the agreement between AstraZeneca and the Commission came the day after progress in talks between Johnson & Johnson and the EU. J&J and the Commission have “concluded exploratory talks” about the supply of an initial 200 million doses.
Negotiators still need to iron out the details, but the expectation is that the Commission will buy 200 million doses of J&J’s Ad26.COV2.S and secure an option to buy a further 200 million doses. Like AstraZeneca’s AZD1222, Ad26.COV2.S is a viral vector-based vaccine.
The EU intends to diversify its vaccine armamentarium beyond viral vector-based prophylactics by securing supplies of the adjuvanted recombinant protein-based prospect being developed by GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi. The Commission completed exploratory talks about the purchase of 300 million doses of the experimental vaccine late last month.
If the Commission concludes all the deals, it will secure access to up to 1.1 billion doses. Given the EU is home to fewer than 500 million people, the three deals could therefore provide enough doses to administer a two-shot regimen to everyone living in the region.
Despite that, the Commission is still pursuing “intensive discussions with other vaccine manufacturers,” the EU body said when disclosing the update on the J&J deal. The EU’s interest in sourcing more vaccines than it needs to vaccinate its population is in keeping with the approaches taken by other buyers such as the UK, which has built a portfolio of prophylactics with different mechanisms of action to ensure availability even if some candidates fail safety and efficacy tests.
The initial set of negotiations disclosed by the Commission leave the EU without access to two main types of vaccines, namely mRNA candidates such as those being trialed by BioNTech, CureVac and Moderna, and inactivated virus shots such as those in development at Sinopharm and Valneva.