AstraZeneca CEO Soriot defends COVID-19 vaccine, blasts 'armchair generals' for unhelpful criticism: FT

Pascal Soriot
AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot defended its University of Oxford-partnered COVID-19 vaccine and criticized "armchair generals" for their unhelpful criticism. (AstraZeneca)

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot has had enough of the criticism toward its University of Oxford-partnered COVID-19 vaccine.

Soriot described the attacks on the vaccine as “traumatic” and defended the company’s work, saying its efforts have been overshadowed by “bad luck” and “people misunderstanding things,” according to the Financial Times.

“People are just trying to do their best,” he told the newspaper. “They’re just trying to produce a vaccine to save lives. It’s that simple. And then, to be criticized every day, sometimes fair criticism, sometimes by armchair generals who have opinions about everything, is really disheartening.”

The CEO's comments come as the European Union takes the British drugmaker to court for missing on its delivery goals of the COVID-19 shot. AZ has promised to supply the continent 300 million doses by the end of June but recently dramatically reduced the number to just 100 million doses.

Amid the legal battle, the European Commission has stopped renewing supply contracts with AZ to instead focus on mRNA shots, Reuters reported earlier this month.

In his interview with FT, Soriot admitted that AZ has failed to deliver enough doses to Europe but pointed to its achievements in other parts of the world. “You can look at the glass half full: We’ve delivered more than 400 million doses [worldwide] and we’ve saved tens of thousands of lives,” he said.

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Soriot previously raised the glass-half-full argument during a press briefing in late April. The company’s providing about 90% of vaccinations for India through a collaboration with local vaccine manufacturer the Serum Institute of India, he noted at the time.

With a recent surge in COVID cases, India is facing a shortage of vaccines. But apart from AZ’s not-for-profit and easy-to-store shot, mRNA vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna that are popular in the U.S. have yet to make their way to the country.

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The AZ vaccine has gone through a series of controversies to find itself drowned in criticism. First, investigators mistakenly used a half dose of the vaccine in some phase 3 trial participants, muddying the eventual results. 

Then, in a rare confrontation, U.S. officials questioned the data that AstraZeneca publicly touted from a confirmatory trial.

On that issue, Soriot admitted an “own goal” and explained that AZ’s staffers had simulated what the final data would look like but forgot to inform the independent trial panel.

“It is not typically necessary but out of politeness and out of good practice, they should have told them,” he told FT. “People have worked so hard, they were tired, they were rushing.”

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Besides those setbacks, the discovery of an increased risk of very rare cases of blood clots also undermined the public’s confidence in the vaccine, even though health authorities and the company maintain the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks.

AZ’s currently still in the process of securing a go-ahead of some form for the vaccine in the U.S.