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DAVOS 2021: AstraZeneca CEO criticises 'me first' approach to COVID

·Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
·3-min read
AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot. Photo: Anton Novoderezhkin\TASS via Getty
AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot. Photo: Anton Novoderezhkin\TASS via Getty

The chief executive of AstraZeneca (AZN.L) has criticised global leaders’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pascal Soriot said world leaders “could and should have been better prepared for this pandemic” and criticised what he called the “me first” attitude many have adopted in tackling the crisis.

“Globally, it’s fair to say we could and should have been better prepared for this pandemic,” AstraZeneca boss Soriot said during an appearance on a virtual panel on Monday.

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“The first phase of COVID is full of good examples but it’s also full of places where we see international collaboration hasn’t been the best.”

Soriot did not name any individual countries or single out any specific behaviours. Early in the pandemic there were reported of global bidding wars between countries for supplies like medical gowns and face masks.

The development of a vaccine “could have been a Fourth of July, Independence Day kind of a moment but it unfortunately wasn’t because there was a little bit of ‘me first’ behaviour,” he said.

Watch: GP nurse receives Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at surgery

READ MORE: Russian bank boss for new global organisation to respond to pandemics

Richer countries have used their financial muscle to buy up the lion’s share of vaccines. Earlier this month, the head of the World Health Organisation dubbed the unequal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines a “catastrophic moral failure.”

“What has not worked very well in my opinion is global collaboration and better preparedness,” Soriot said.

Soriot’s criticism was echoed by Mazen S Darwazeh, the executive vice-chairman of generic drug maker Hikma Pharmaceuticals (HIK.L). Darwazeh, who appeared on the same panel as Soriot, said there had been a “slow response” from governments and decision makers.

READ MORE: COVID-19 crisis won't end until developing nations get vaccine

“Going forward there must be more cooperation between healthcare organisations,” he said.

Soriot said “things are changing” and stressed that continued collaboration was vital to bringing the pandemic under control.

“The virus is going to mutate,” he said. “We need to track it and we need to look at emerging strains.”

World leaders should learn lessons from the pandemic and invest more in early detection and prevention, Soriot said. Just 3% of global healthcare expenditure is spent on preventative measures, the AstraZeneca chief executive said, and just 0.6% is spent on immunisation programmes.

READ MORE: Why New Zealand is one of most successful countries in tackling COVID-19

“The first thing to do is to invest in detection and early prevention,” Soriot said.

“It’s important for governments around the world to shift the mindset. Health is an asset you invest in, not a cost you try and minimise.”

Soriot and Darwazeh were speaking together at the Davos Agenda digital conference.

AstraZeneca is one of several companies to have developed a working COVID-19 vaccine. The company said in November that its vaccine, which was developed in tandem with the University of Oxford, would be sold at cost price to developing nations, meaning it would not make a profit.

Watch: AstraZeneca to ‘cut COVID-19 vaccine delivery to EU by 60%’