PARIS, Feb 4 (Reuters) - European Union industry commissioner Thierry Breton was put in charge of a new vaccine production task force on Thursday after the EU executive came under fire over delays with deliveries of vaccines against the coronavirus.
Breton, a former French finance minister, will head the new task force in cooperation with EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides, to identify and eliminate bottlenecks in vaccine production plants and adjust output to new variants.
The European Commission has come under fierce criticism from EU member states over delays in the EU's COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, which has badly lagged behind countries like Britain, a former EU member, and the United States.
An announcement by AstraZeneca that it would cut its supply of vaccines to the EU until March by 60% due to production problems particularly infuriated member states.
Although France has publicly defended the decision to entrust the Commission with negotiating vaccine contracts, President Emmanuel Macron has been "driven mad" by the "slowness and lack of imagination" of EU institutions on vaccines, a diplomatic source told Reuters.
Breton, a close Macron ally, attended two vaccine summits earlier this week, one hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday and the other by Macron on Tuesday, in a sign Europe's two most powerful leaders want to focus minds in Brussels.
"I don't want to blame companies too much. It's a pretty complex process," Breton told a small group of reporters. "But what I told them is: I need to be informed immediately (of any production issue). I need transparency. Don't wait too long."
However, Breton said cooperation between pharmaceutical companies to produce vaccine developed by rivals, following the model of Sanofi producing Pfizer vaccines, will be done on a voluntary basis, and that there was no plan to force firms to share licences with competitors to scale up vaccine output.
(Reporting by Michel Rose Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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