Delays in vaccine. | POOL

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The European Union will meet AstraZeneca executives today to seek further clarification on why they unexpectedly announced a large cut in supplies of COVID-19 vaccine to the bloc for the first quarter of the year, EU officials said.

AstraZeneca, which developed its shot with Oxford University, told the EU on Friday that it could not meet the agreed supply targets running up to the end of March, with an EU official telling Reuters that meant a 60% cut to 31 million doses.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker has received an up-front payment of 336 million euros ($409 million) from the EU, a second EU official told Reuters when the 27-nation bloc sealed a supply deal with AstraZeneca in August for at least 300 million doses - the first signed by the EU to secure COVID-19 shots.

Under advance purchase deals sealed during the pandemic, the EU makes down payments to companies to secure doses, with the money expected to be mostly used to expand production capacity.