By Ian Brodie, with Reuters
European Union officials said on Wednesday that 10 million Pfizer doses due to be delivered in December have still not entered the supply chain. The doses amount to one-third of the original order and the bloc’s dependence on the company has had a knock-on effect across the continent.
The EU has also been hit by delays in deliveries from the Anglo-Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca and Moderna of the US.
The delays also raise questions about the rationale of an EU vaccine export control scheme which was set up in late January to ensure timely deliveries but has not yet been activated, despite the supply shortfalls.
By the middle of last week, Pfizer had delivered to the EU 23m doses of the Covid-19 vaccine it developed with the German firm BioNTech, said an EU official who is directly involved in talks with the US company.
That was about 10 million doses less than Pfizer had promised to supply by mid-February, said a second official who is also involved in the talks.
Pfizer declined to comment to Reuters, saying schedules of its deliveries were confidential. The European commission did not respond to a request for comment on delivery shortfalls.
EU officials have said Pfizer committed to delivering 3.5 million doses a week from the start of January, for a total of 21 million shots by mid-February.
BioNTech said on December 22 that the companies would ship to the EU 12.5 million doses by the end of the month. Only about two million of those doses due in December have been delivered, according to Reuters calculations.
The shortfall amounts to about 30 percent of the total supplies pledged for the period from December until mid-February. One EU official said the company had committed to delivering the missing doses by the end of March.
EU INVESTS IN VARIANT RESEARCH
The EU will invest at least €75 million to develop specialised tests to identify variants, and it will provide another €150 million to boost research in variants, the EU executive said in a statement. Most European Union states have so far done little or nothing to spot new variants, as they lack the capabilities to sequence the genome of the virus on a large scale.
Brussels also pledged to accelerate regulatory approvals of upgraded vaccines that work against variants and to help ramp up vaccine production.
It is also adding anti-variant clauses in its new supply deals to make sure companies develop shots that work against new variants, EU sources said.
On the present trend, it is unlikely that European Union countries will inoculate their populations before the end of the year, while the UK is aiming to ramp up jabbing to as many as one million people a day and complete the roll-out by the end of June.
On Wednesday, European Commission President von der Leyen said that the EU will buy 300 million extra doses from Moderna on top of the 160 million already ordered. However, delivery will not be until the third and fourth quarters of 2021.
A number of EU states, including the Czech Republic, have rebuffed approaches from AstraZeneca offering additional vaccine supplies, saying they do not want to go against the bloc’s centralised procurement policy.
There is also a political dimension behind the fact that some senior figures, including France’s President Macron, have stated that the AstraZeneca vaccine is inadequate for older people – despite the World Health Organisation giving its approval for all age groups. In fact, due to ease of handling and its low price, the AstraZeneca vaccine is widely touted as the one that will be the most widely used worldwide.
FILE PHOTO: Vials with a sticker reading, “COVID-19 / Coronavirus vaccine / Injection only” and a medical syringe are seen in front of a displayed Johnson & Johnson logo in this illustration taken October 31, 2020. Approval is expected by the EU in mid-March REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration