Pascal Soriot hits back at EU from Down Under

AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot hits back at critics in Brussels who complained about vaccine shortages

AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot has hit back at critics in Brussels who complained about jab shortages, saying the business had ‘done its best’. 

He said Astrazeneca had been instrumental in getting vaccines to India and denied that the company had ‘overpromised’ in Europe, adding that ‘we never pretended that we were going to be perfect’. 

The French businessman, who has been holed up at his family home in Australia since Christmas, has faced attacks from the EU and various European governments over Astrazeneca’s vaccine delivery. 

Fighting talk: Pascal Soriot has faced attacks from the EU and various European governments over Astrazeneca’s vaccine delivery

The EU, backed by all 27 member states, is taking legal action against the London-listed company for not respecting their contract to deliver 300m doses. Soriot, 61, said that he was ‘sorry’ he had not been able to deliver as many jabs to Europe as expected, but that manufacturing the shots was a complicated business. He added: ‘We never overpromised, we communicated what we thought we would achieve at the time.’ 

Soriot said that at the start of the pandemic ‘everybody was talking about 120, 130 vaccines in development – we forget that. But where are all those vaccines? They’re nowhere’. Astrazeneca has committed to making no profit from the vaccine during the pandemic, meaning the drug maker is likely to be supplying one of the only jabs to poorer countries. 

Soriot said: ‘We have made an enormous difference. A lot of people are very thankful. Would I have preferred to make a bigger difference? Of course. But at the end of the day, we did our best.’ 

The anger from the EU, which is set to receive 50m doses of the Astrazeneca vaccine by the end of April, comes even as several European countries have suspended use of the jab. 

Denmark has stopped the rollout entirely, over blood clot fears, while Germany has limited use in the under-60s. 

Some shareholders were miffed that Soriot chose to stay in Australia for the last several months, claiming that he may have handled the communications disaster better if he had been closer to colleagues in Europe. On a video-streamed shareholder engagement call, he admitted: ‘It’s clear we have more to do in terms of communication and we need to make sure people know what we’re doing.’ 

But on a call with journalists, he brushed off suggestions that his decision to stay in Australia affected this. 

He said: ‘My life has been spent around 80 per cent on video over the past couple of years, because I manage a global network and have a team based in Sweden, Cambridge, the US, China. We’ve learned to work remotely, even more so, which by the way helps us to reduce our carbon footprint, so working digitally is certainly something we’ll do even more in the future.’ 

Soriot, a father of two, is expected to return to Britain this month. 

Astrazeneca shares rose 4.3 per cent last night.