• Jason Nisse

It's not cricket for AstraZeneca

What do AstraZeneca and the English rugby union team have in common? Of course both have had bad weeks. AstraZeneca has just had to withdraw and resubmit a US study showing how well its Covd-19 vaccine works because of regulatory complaints about the data. And the English rugby team were soundly trounced by the Irish in the final game of a Six Nations tournament they were tipped to win.

Yet it goes deeper. Both have found themselves at the wrong end of controversial rulings, with claims that the authority figures (the US regulator for AstraZeneca, the referee in the Welsh game for England) behaved unreasonably. And both have only themselves to blame.

Now I don’t know a lot about the rules of rugby, but it seems to me that the English forwards appear to give away a heck of a lot of penalties. Whether this is because they are serial offenders, or that if you gain a reputation for ill-discipline then the referee will be more than usually watchful, so you end up being penalised more often, I’m not qualified to say.

Similarly I’m not sure whether AstraZeneca has been a bit fast and loose with its data, though I suspect not, or whether the increased scrutiny of its Covid-19 jabs are leading it to be unfairly punished. Certainly the decision by many European governments to stop AstraZeneca vaccination programmes, because of worries about blood clots, appeared excessively cautious.

However when you know the forensic eye is on you, what you need to be is squeaky clean. England was criticised for “doubling up” – giving up a second penalty straight after the first. AstraZeneca, in its desire to show people its vaccine was safe, ended up undermining confidence by putting out research that the regulator didn’t like.

As a result faith it its jab has plummeted across Europe. And if people don’t get the vaccine, this is bad for all of us.

Who is to blame? In English rugby it has to go back to the coach, Eddie Jones. For AstraZeneca you could blame the communications team, or the research team. But ultimately you have to ask questions of CEO Pascal Soriot. He sets the tone for how the company behaves, and if AstraZeneca is constantly in the headmaster’s office, then he needs to think about why.

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