- AstraZeneca recently said had no engineers to assist in the transfer of COVID-19 vaccine technology.
- The statement by the company’s CEO was made during a shareholder Q&A.
- It has drawn criticism from campaign groups and other industry observers.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Health industry observers and social justice groups have criticized recent comments by AstraZeneca’s CEO about vaccine technology transfer.
AstraZeneca has said it cannot share such technology with the World Health Organization (WHO) because it has no engineers available to assist in the technology transfer.
The comments were made by chief executive Pascal Soriot during a shareholder Q&A.
The People’s Vaccine Alliance, a global coalition of civil society organisations, pressed AstraZeneca on providing access to its technology.
“There is no way, even if we give access to the technology and we told people ‘here is the recipe’,” Soriot responded during the Q&A, “there is no way we could train these people to manufacture the vaccine because our engineers are flat out working with our existing partners.”
He added: “The solution is to increase the yield in the existing plants, not to create more plants, because we have no engineers to brief people and train them.”
The CEO’s responses have been met with criticism. Heidi Chow, the lead campaigner at Global Justice Now, a social justice organization, accused the company of “making excuses for their complicity in vaccine apartheid,” after the firm dismissed efforts to join the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool.
The excuse was “utterly unacceptable,” Chow said, adding that it was proof of why governments “should never have trusted a small number of companies to vaccinate the world.”
Katie Mellor, an Oxford vaccine trial volunteer, said she found the comments to be “deeply offensive” as people across the world continue to die in the absence of vaccines.
An AstraZeneca spokesperson told Insider in a statement: “Vaccine manufacturing is highly complex, and accelerating production at this scale and speed requires partners around the world with capabilities to manufacture using our standard process to ensure consistency and quality of the vaccine.”
The spokesperson said AstraZeneca was the first company to sign up to COVAX, “for which our vaccine has provided 98% of all supply to date. The majority of doses supplied through COVAX are for low and middle-income countries.”
The statement continued. “To deliver on our commitment to broad and equitable access and accelerate vaccine production, we have enabled technology transfer to more than 20 different supply partners across more than 15 countries around the globe.”
It added: “Vaccine manufacturing is highly complex, and accelerating production at this scale and speed requires partners around the world with capabilities to manufacture using our standard process to ensure consistency and quality of the vaccine.”
The call to share technology and expertise for vaccine production through the WHO’s technology pool comes amid vaccine shortages in many developing countries.
Countries that have been hit hard in recent weeks include India, which has been battling an unprecedented COVID-19 surge that’s overwhelming hospitals and crematoria.
At the time of writing, India has reported more than 19 million COVID-19 cases and more than 216,000 deaths.