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HSE chief says confidence levels in AstraZeneca 'rocked' by supply issues

Earlier the health minister said that over a seven-day period last week, the company revised down deliveries “at the very last minute, three times”.
Mar 11th 2021, 12:40 PM 55,679 75

Updated Mar 11th 2021, 4:30 PM

HSE CEO PAUL Reid has said confidence in pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has been “rocked” by supply issues, with delivery volumes changed several times at the last minute. 

His comments came after the Taoiseach sought a meeting with the CEO of AstraZeneca for next week to discuss production and supply. 

The meeting, which is being set up by the IDA, comes amid criticisms of the company for their continued and repeated failure to deliver on the level of vaccine it promised.

Speaking at the HSE’s weekly briefing today, Reid said he welcomed the Taoiseach’s intervention stating that he had been keeping Micheál Martin and the the rest of the government informed of the “unpredictability of supply”. 

Reid said discussions with the firm on supply levels are ongoing but he does not anticipate it will meet the full commitment of 377,000 doses for this quarter. He said he does not even have clarity yet on the volume of deliveries for next week. 

“Our confidence levels have been fairly rocked with them in terms of deliveries and supplies so that’s an ongoing dialogue with them right now,” he said.

The health service had been aiming to grow the number of weekly doses administered as the roll-out advanced and weekly targets should be above 100,000 doses now, but next week the target is between 75,000 and 85,000 doses. 

“I think the last three to four weeks in particular have been very impactful on us, probably in fact more impactful on us than many other EU countries because we’re operating at a high level of efficiency,” he said.

Reid said the inconsistencies with deliveries have made it difficult for the HSE to provide accurate projections, describing criticisms directed at the health service for failing to meet targets as “bizarre”.

“We are operating in very real-time in our distribution of vaccines, 95% of what we get in in any given week is administered in that week, and in fact in times 95% within three days,” he said. 

He said on one occasion the health service received a last minute notification from the company on a Friday, which meant vaccines planned for that weekend could not be administered.

“One delivery where we’d be expecting 52,000, we’d get an early forecast saying ‘sorry that’s 26,000′ and then very shortly before that [delivery] again an indication, ‘actually it’s less than 10,000′. So that’s the environment in which we’re trying to operate,” he said.

‘Deeply frustrating’

Earlier in the Dáil, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly also said AstraZeneca is “not performing well” and is “repeatedly changing its delivery schedules, often at the last minute”.

He told the Dáil that the company is constantly “revising down the volumes that it had agreed to deliver”.

Donnelly said that over a seven-day period last week, AstraZeneca revised down their deliveries “at the very last minute, three times”, citing problems around production.

It is “deeply frustrating” for everyone across Europe, he said.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health David Cullinane criticised the Minister for Health for failing to take a hands-on approach with vaccine suppliers.

He said the minister is failing to represent Irish interests with suppliers and is passing the buck to the Commission and civil servants.

Donnelly said what is happening with AstraZeneca “is not good enough”.

Cullinane asked Donnelly if he has got in touch with AstraZeneca personally. The minister said he hasn’t directly been in touch with the company, as the contracting relationship is with the EU Commission, and the vaccine task force, who he said acts on behalf of the government.

Cullinane called on the health minister to directly contact the company to express the frustration of the Irish State.

Cullinane also said “it is incredible and astounding that he has not picked up the phone himself to put pressure on AstraZeneca for their failures”.

Speaking at Leader’s Questions, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was also critical of AstraZeneca under questioning from Labour leader Alan Kelly.

He said that while Pfizer and Moderna had largely honoured their agreements on vaccine supply so far, AstraZeneca had not. 

“That’s an enormous problem,” Varadkar said. “And I’m seeking explanations too. 

I do not understand how this big, successful company can honour its contracts to the United States and to the United Kingdom, but for some reason not honour its contractual commitments to the European Union. The answers have not been satisfactory.

The Tánaiste added that EU countries do have the power to impose export bans and such a measure has already been taken by Italy against the export of AstraZeneca vaccines from Europe.

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Advance purchase deals

Last night, sustained criticism was levelled against the minister, with TDs calling for side deals to be struck with other suppliers, and countries.

The health minister rejected the idea that Ireland should use vaccines that have not been approved by the European Medicines Agency. 

Ireland has advanced purchase deals for three vaccines that have European Medicines Agency (EMA) approval, one with Johnson and Johnson which is due to be approved today, and three that have not been approved yet. He said  we need to be “absolutely sure” that if advance purchase deal is entered into for the Sputnik vaccine that it is safe. 

He told the Dáil that more than 99% of people aged over 85 have now been vaccinated but a “few hundred” still have not received the vaccine.

He said there are strong indicators that vaccine is working. Hospital workers infection rate has fallen by 95%. Absenteeism linked to Covid is down from several thousand to several hundred, he said.

The positivity rates in nursing homes is down to 0.2%, and NPHET is today considering changes to visitation restrictions, which Donnelly says is hugely important to family and staff.

Earlier today, Varadkar said it will be May “at the earliest” before personal services like hairdressers will reopen.

The government have long flagged that the only restrictions to be reviewed before 5 April will be the 5km limit, construction re-opening, and also outdoor activities. 

Speaking on Newstalk, Leo Varadkar repeated that shops and personal services would be open before hospitality, but that outdoor sports training could be eased in early April.

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said today:

“We won’t be in lockdown forever.”

He said the “real test of political system to hold our nerve”, stating that the next review date after 5 April has not been decided upon.

With reporting from Sean Murray and Michelle Hennessy.

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