“ This is not like the butcher: it is not who invests first gets vaccines first.” With that statement by European Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, the battle between AstraZeneca and the European Commission began on the supply of coronavaccines. The EU was furious that it receives far fewer vaccines than previously promised, while the British were simply given their promised quantities.
What Kyriakides did not say: London was not only in line with the proverbial butcher before it was clear whether the butcher would have meat at all. And the Netherlands had the chance to stand next to the British in April and May last year.
Oxford is looking for partners for vaccine production
Halix in Leiden is nothing more than a building when the coronacrisis breaks out. The companys brand new, the building just finished. It is state-of-the-art and suitable for making large amounts of vaccine relatively quickly, but is still empty for the time being. Ideal for the University of Oxford, which is looking for partners in February last year to produce its own coronavaccin. This is the vaccine that would later be taken over by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.
Initially, there is hardly any money available at Oxford. Some 400,000 pounds can be spent by the British, too little to actually pay Halix. But all the parties involved expected that the money would eventually come. The coronacrisis moved around the world, and vaccines were, according to many, the only realistic solution. Investments in that industry could not be left behind.
Indeed, in the United Kingdom, all doors will open to Oxford University from the beginning of April. The British Government is already setting up a vaccination taskforce. Top people from the pharmaceutical industry are hired to get companies with big subsidies and political pressure to work together.
Investment of tens of millions
end of April, the United Kingdom is investing some EUR 75 million in developing and producing the Oxford vaccine, according to the sources that DeccEit spoke, some EUR 25 million would go to Halix. With that British money, Halix can, among other things, purchase the equipment to produce vaccines in a 200-liter-barrel. But Oxford wants more, it wants to continue in 1000-litre barrels, to make really large amounts of vaccine.
This requires an investment of about EUR 10 million. The researchers at Oxford do not expect that money to come from London as well. The British Government wants the large-scale production of vaccines to take place on the British island itself and is therefore investing in Oxford Biomedica in mid-May. For production at Halix in Leiden, the scientists are therefore focusing their eyes on the Dutch government.
Omtzigt informs Rutte
One of the scientists involved is via the CDA member of the parliament Pieter Omtzigt. On April 28, Omtzigt will be sitting with Prime Minister Rutte in the Turret. He presents Rutte the concrete demand from Oxford University to invest the EUR 10 million.
The written request sent to Rutte a day later has been partially viewed by DeccEit. It states that although there is a chance that the vaccine will never be successful, the omens have hitherto been very favourable.
Furthermore, the letter is a fairly precise prediction of the future in which we are now. “There will probably be a huge demand for vaccines if they pass the tests successfully. Most likely, the quantities of available vaccines will then be limited for several months. In order to avoid major delays, production capacity must now be increased.” In the letter it is recommended to call Halix director Alex Huybens.
Deal with AstraZeneca
Two days after the conversation between Rutte and Omtzigt in the Turentje, AstraZeneca and Oxford University announced that they will work together to make the vaccine available worldwide. According to those involved, this makes investment more complex, but also more attractive. More complicated because there are more hijackers on the coast, more attractive because a major international pharmaceutical company connects his name to the vaccine.
At the beginning of May, Dutch officials will speak with vaccine maker Halix. They ask the company to come up with a concrete plan that states what they will do with the money.
That plan will never come. In replies to previous parliamentary questions, the Ministry of General Affairs states that Halix quickly stated that an investment was “no longer a question”. The deal with AstraZeneca may have everything to do with that. At Halix, it was probably estimated that the pharmaceutical company would make the necessary investments.
The Netherlands called with the wrong
Nonetheless, those involved say that the Netherlands could still have invested at that time. The contracts betweenAstraZeneca and Oxford had not yet been completed and the production area at Halix was still available. The Ministry of Health focused only on the wrong player. In the end, not Halix was about this investment, but Oxford University, the party on whose behalf Pieter Omtzigt was in the Tower. No official has ever called the Oxford scientists themselves, the instruction in the letter to call Halix has been followed.
The investment of EUR 10 million had not yet given the Netherlands automatic access to the vaccines produced in Leiden, but the Netherlands had been in the first row after such an investment to reserve the production area for the first years. An investment and reservation often go together in the pharmaceutical industry. In addition, the Netherlands could have demanded that the vaccines should be for their own use in the first instance. In the meantime, according to the European Commission, about 6 million doses of vaccine are produced every month at Halix, enough to vaccinate 3 million people.
The fact that the Netherlands missed an opportunity here is now proven in practice. The United Kingdom has not yet exported any vaccine to mainland Europe. The British therefore invested in Halix early and presumably stipulated that they were entitled to part of the vaccines produced.
British stipulated priority
Two weeks after the Tower meeting between Omtzigt and Rutte, the British also discontinued millions of dollars into Oxford Biomedica. In doing so, the British Government established a priority position over the supply of vaccines coming from that plant. A similar investment could have been made by the Netherlands with Halix.
Halix is now called “the mystery factory” in the European press. Nobody knows exactly how many vaccines have been produced in recent months, but according to DeccEit sources, there should be about 15 million. Even less known is where they went. There were rumors in Brussels earlier this month that there were millions of vaccines stored inside and Brussels fears that they would go to the UK.
However, it is certain that the British had a claim to production from the factory. Astrazeneca top man Soriot said in February in the European Parliament: “When we took over the Oxford vaccine, we inherited a number of contracts. The British Government had invested in production in the UK, but also in our partner in the Netherlands.”
The European Union disagrees with that statement, making Halix part of a complex jousting game between AstraZeneca, the EU and the United Kingdom. That jousting might never have become as complicated as the Netherlands had invested.
Looking for production capacity
Minister De Jonge founded the “inclusive vaccine alliance” at the beginning of June 2020, one month after the talks with Halix. Together with Germany, France and Italy, the Netherlands soon concluded an agreement with AstraZeneca on the supply of vaccines.
Last month, De Jonge said in the Volkskrant that he saw at that time how the United States and the United Kingdom were already reserving production facilities in Europe. “Had we done that, we might have had more vaccines before. We have not had enough on our retina that we should have interfered more firmly in the production capacity.”
Last month De Jonge also appointed a special envoy who had to look for production capacity in the Netherlands. It concluded that this production capacity could not be increased in the short term.