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EU agreed to pay €870 million for supply of AstraZeneca vaccines by June, contract shows

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The European Union agreed to pay about €870 million ($1.06 billion) for its supply of 300 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and to receive them by June, the contract published on Friday by Italy’s RAI television shows, write Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio, Nathan Allen and Ludwig Burger.

The publication of the contract, signed on 27 August, 2020, unveils confidential details about the price and the timetable for deliveries agreed by AstraZeneca. The Anglo-Swedish company revised down the timetable last month because of production issues, leading to a bitter fight with the EU over delayed supplies.

Under the confidential contract, only parts of which had previously been disclosed, the EU has agreed to pay approximately €2.9 ($3.5) per dose, in line with Reuters’ earlier reports of a price of about €2.5.

The document, published by a team of RAI investigative journalists, shows that AstraZeneca had committed to delivering between 80 million and 120 million doses by the end of March and the remaining 180 million shots by the end of June under an estimated delivery schedule.

AstraZeneca, which developed the vaccine with Oxford University, declined to comment.

The company last month cut its planned deliveries in the first quarter of the year to 31 million, and later lifted it to 40 million after intense pressure from the EU.

EU officials had already been told by AstraZeneca in December that only 80 million doses would be available by the end of March, an EU document seen by Reuters shows.

The EU was then informed in late January of the new reduction in supplies, the company and the EU said.

AstraZeneca began its deliveries to the EU in early February after its vaccine was approved by the EU drugs regulator.

EU officials have said that under the contract the company was required to manufacture vaccines even before regulatory approval so that they could be made available immediately after authorisation.

An estimated delivery schedule in the contract shows that 30 million doses were due in December and 40 million in January, with “final delivery subject to agreement of delivery schedule and regulatory approval,” the contract says.

Under the timetable the company had committed to delivering 50 million doses in February and March.

In another section of the contract, the company committed to use its “best reasonable efforts” to produce and deliver after authorisation approximately 30 million to 40 million doses in 2020 and 80 million to 100 million in the first three months of this year.

The contract shows that the vaccine should be produced for the EU at four factories: one in Belgium, one in the Netherlands and at Oxford Biomedica and Cobra Biologics plants in Britain.

($1 = €0.8245)

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India warns of worsening COVID-19 situation, vaccinations to expand

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India announced an expansion of its vaccination programme on Wednesday (24 February) but warned that breaches of coronavirus protocols could worsen an infection surge in many states, write Krishna N. Das and Neha Arora.

Nearly a month after the health minister declared that COVID-19 had been contained, states such as Maharashtra in the west and Kerala in the south have reported a surge in cases, as reluctance grows over mask-wearing and social distancing.

India’s infections are the second highest in the world at 11.03 million, swelled in the past 24 hours by 13,742, health ministry data shows. Deaths rose by a two-week high of 104 to 156,567.

“Any laxity in implementing stringent measures to curb the spread, especially in view of new strains of virus ... could compound the situation,” the ministry said in a statement singling out nine states and a federal territory.

India has confirmed the long-time presence of two mutant variants - N440K and E484Q - in addition to those first detected in Brazil, Britain and South Africa.

The ministry said that while cases in the states of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Kerala, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, as well as the federal territory of Jammu and Kashmir, were rising, the proportion of high-accuracy RT-PCR tests in those places was falling. Cases have also risen in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

In the past week, a third of India’s 36 states and union territories have reported an average of more than 100 new cases each day, with Kerala and Maharashtra both reporting more than 4,000, in a trend experts link to the reopening of schools and suburban train services.

The government has also asked states to speed vaccinations for healthcare and frontline workers. Just about 11 million people have received one or two doses in a campaign that began on Jan. 16, versus a target of 300 million by August.

From March 1, India will start vaccinating people above 60 and those older than 45 with health conditions free of charge in about 10,000 government hospitals and for a fee in more than 20,000 private facilities, the government said.

Earlier on Wednesday, a regulatory panel sought more data from drugmaker Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories for emergency authorisation of Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, a senior official with direct knowledge of the discussions said.

The Central Drugs Standard Control Organization did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for confirmation.

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Denmark to ease some COVID-19 restrictions from 1 March

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Denmark will ease some shopping restrictions and allow schools in parts of the country to reopen on 1 March, the government said on Wednesday (24 February), potentially allowing hospital admissions to triple in the coming month, writes Nikolaj Skydsgaard.

Denmark, which has one of the lowest infection rates in Europe, has seen general infection numbers drop after it introduced lockdown measures in December in a bid to curb a more contagious coronavirus variant.

Based on recommendations from an expert advisory group, the government said stores under 5,000 square metres will be allowed to reopen, while outdoor leisure activities can resume with an upper limit of 25 people.

“More activity will also mean more infected and thus also more hospitalisations,” Health Minister Magnus Heunicke told a press conference.

Heunicke said hospital admissions could briefly peak at some 880 in mid-April, more than triple the current 247.

“It will happen as spring sets in and more and more people get vaccinations.”

Schools in parts of the country will also be allowed to reopen, but will require students to test themselves twice a week.

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EU's von der Leyen tells skittish Europeans: 'I'd take AstraZeneca vaccine'

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The European Union’s most senior administrator said she would happily receive AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine as officials rushed to find ways of ensuring doses refused by skittish Germans did not go to waste, writes Thomas Escritt.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s (pictured) remarks came amid growing concerns that unfavourable comments by top European officials including French President Emmanuel Macron had slowed take-up of one of only three vaccines currently approved EU-wide.

Earlier this month, Macron said Britain had taken a risk in authorizing AstraZeneca so rapidly. A German official study also found evidence that, though effective, the vaccine has more severe side effects than its two main rivals.

“I would take the AstraZeneca vaccine without a second thought, just like Moderna’s and BioNTech/Pfizer’s products,” von der Leyen told the Augsburger Allgemeine.

The endorsement is all the more striking for coming a month after the European Commission that she heads entered into sharp correspondence with AstraZeneca over suggestions, denied by the company, that the British-Swedish company had prioritised Britain over the EU in delivering the vaccine.

The Commission has been criticised over the slow pace of vaccination across the 27-member-bloc, with critics saying it failed to secure sufficient early supply of the vaccines that leaders are banking on to bring an end to the pandemic that has devastated the continent’s economy.

In Germany, where a widespread preference for the German-designed BioNTech vaccine has led to a growing number of unused AstraZeneca doses, officials and politicians competed to suggest ways of making sure they did not go to waste.

Berlin’s Social Affairs Senator Elke Breitenbach said unused doses should be given to the 3,000 homeless living in the city’s emergency accommodation. “We shouldn’t forget those who don’t have a loud lobby behind them,” she told Funke Media Group.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer had earlier said unused vaccines should go to the police.

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