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EXCLUSIVE-Astra offers small concession, EU pleads for UK-made shots amid vaccine row -sources

(adds Lithuanian drugs watchdog, EU Commission)

BRUSSELS, Jan 26 (Reuters) - AstraZeneca has offered to bring forward some deliveries of its COVID-19 vaccine to the European Union while the bloc has asked the British drugmaker if it can divert doses from the UK to make up for a shortfall in supplies, European officials told Reuters.

The Anglo-Swedish company unexpectedly announced on Friday it would cut supplies to the EU of its vaccine candidate in the first quarter of this year, a move that a senior EU official told Reuters meant a 60% reduction to 31 million doses for the bloc.

That complicated the EU’s vaccination plans, after Pfizer had also announced a temporary slowdown in deliveries of its vaccine, and triggered an outcry in Brussels and EU capitals.

Two European officials told Reuters on Tuesday that AstraZeneca at two extraordinary meetings on Monday had offered the EU to bring forward to Feb. 7 the start of deliveries from an initial plan to begin on Feb 15.

One of the sources, briefed on talks, said that AstraZeneca had also revised upward its supply goals for February compared to the cuts announced last week, but the company offered no clarity on supplies for March.

This appears to be an overture by AstraZeneca to try and keep the peace with the EU as the row over its sudden cut to deliveries escalates, damaging trust between Brussels and the drugmaker before the shot has been approved in the region.

The second EU official, directly involved in the talks, said however there was no offer to increase supplies.

AstraZeneca has quarterly supply targets. Therefore an increase in February, if not followed by a rise in March, may not constitute an overall increase in the quarter.

The head of Lithuania’s drugs watchdog Gytis Andrulionis told Reuters AstraZeneca on Monday increased its planned supplies for February for Lithuania and other EU countries compared to Fridays cuts, but noted that was still not enough to comply with the EU contract.

AstraZeneca was not immediately available for comment.

After Monday’s meetings, EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said AstraZeneca had not offered adequate answers to questions posed by the EU.

The EU official involved in the talks also said that the EU had explicitly asked AstraZeneca whether it could divert to the 27-nation bloc doses produced in Britain, at least through March.

But the company did not answer these questions, the official said.

AstraZeneca has said the revised timetable was caused by production issues in Europe. One EU senior official told Reuters last week that the problem was at a vaccine factory in Belgium run by AstraZeneca’s partner Novasep.

A spokesman for the EU Commission declined to comment on details of the talks with AstraZeneca, but added that the EU wanted “a precise delivery schedule”.

On Dec. 30 Britain granted emergency approval to the shot developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. A decision on authorisation in the EU is expected on Friday. (Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio in Brussels and Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; additional reporting by Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt; Editing by Susan Fenton, Kirsten Donovan)

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