Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca has come under fire for treating EU citizens unfairly from EPP MEP Peter Liese, who criticised the company for not being forthcoming with information.
Speaking during a press conference on Friday (5 February), the centre-right MEP, who is also the group’s coordinator in the European Parliament’s Environment and Public Health Committee, highlighted that the company’s handling of the situation over the past few weeks has left a lot to be desired.
“This company is not treating EU citizens fairly,” he stressed, adding it is “treating 440 million citizens as second class”.
“That everybody suffers when there are problems in one production site – is that fair? Is it ethical? Is it acceptable that the BioNTech–Pfizer vaccine goes to the UK already for two months now and, when there is a problem, it is only the 440 million citizens in the EU who suffer?” he questioned.
While the MEP, who is also a trained doctor, did not say whether he thought there had been any wrongdoing on the Commission’s part, he said that the Commission has been “much better” at clarifying the situation.
Pointing out that he asked the company several times about the production problem, Liese said that AstraZeneca gave him multiple different explanations and did not properly inform him, which he said was unacceptable.
“I will never say that everything is perfect, but I think the criticism of the Commission is disproportionate and leaves out a lot of facts,” he added.
His comments follow a tumultuous few weeks which saw a clash between the European Commission and the pharmaceutical company after it said that it would fall short of delivering promised vaccines to the EU by March because of production problems in Belgium.
After pressure mounted on the company, it has since committed to increasing its coronavirus vaccine deliveries to the EU by 30%.
Defending the European Commission’s decision to put in place a transparency and authorisation mechanism for exports of COVID-19 vaccines, Liese said that events of the past few weeks justified the use of such a mechanism.
“We don’t want to make anyone’s life difficult, but we want the vaccines for Europeans,” he said, adding that the EU was the most cooperative in this field.
“It cannot be that those who are open and cooperating get problems, while the others get to vaccinate their people,” he said.
The MEP adding a warning that the company must now “continue to work hard so that its reputation in the EU and worldwide does not suffer more”.
“Pressure must continue to be put on AstraZeneca,” he said, adding that whether the production problem was accidental or due to an oversight remains an “open question”.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]