A warning from AstraZeneca that initial deliveries of EU-bound Covid-19 vaccines will be lower than expected has raised new concerns about the roll-out of vaccinations, with some countries planning a sharp reduction in deliveries.
Friday’s announcement from the British pharmaceutical company followed another last week by Pfizer, which said it would delay shipments of its vaccine for up to a month due to work at its key plant in Belgium.
The companies’ warnings come with concerns that are deepening about new Covid-19 variants, especially one that originated in the UK and is more contagious than the original strain.
Europe has now registered more than 692,000 virus deaths and almost 32 million infections.
The EU has so far approved vaccines from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech as well as from the American company Moderna.
It has not yet approved the vaccine from AstraZeneca and its partner University of Oxford, but is expected to make a decision by 29 January.
AstraZeneca said in a statement that if EU approval is granted, the “initial volumes will be lower than expected”, even if the launch would not be delayed.
The company blamed “reduced returns on a manufacturing facility within our European supply chain”.
It said it would in any case supply the EU with “millions of doses” while increasing production in February and March.
The announcement led to “deep dissatisfaction” from EU member states, who “insisted on a precise delivery schedule”, said European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides.
“Very, very bad news”
The Austrian health service Rudolf Anschober called it “very, very bad news” and said that in February his country would only receive more than half of the 650,000 AstraZeneca doses it had expected.
Lithuania said it expects an 80 percent reduction in AstraZeneca doses in the first quarter.
Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said “it really has the potential to affect the wider vaccination program … It will disrupt our plans.”
However, some government officials tried to reassure the people of their countries, who are tired and beaten by months of pandemics and are already on the verge of slow vaccination.
“We have new vaccines on the way. We have Pfizer, which is increasing its production capacity,” French industry minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher told France Inter.
The EU had originally ordered up to 400 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
In total, the EU has secured contracts for more than two billion vaccine doses for a total population of 450 million.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has the advantage that it is cheaper to produce than the competition and that it is easier to store and transport.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn also tried to downplay the effect of the announcement, saying that after jab’s expected approval in a week’s, “AstraZeneca will be delivered in February”.
“How much we still need to clarify with AstraZeneca and the European Union in the coming days,” he said.
Sweden’s national vaccination coordinator Richard Bergstrom said he expects his country to receive approximately 700,000 doses in the first month after the vaccine is approved, compared to one million initially expected.
Norway, which is not a member of the EU but follows decisions made by the bloc’s drug authority, expressed “disappointment”.
The country’s FHI health authority is now planning to receive only 200,000 doses of AstraZeneca in February – much less than the 1.12 million originally expected.
Meanwhile, the Pfizer delay last week continued to receive criticism.
Pfizer said on January 15 that modifications at the Puurs plant were necessary to increase the vaccine’s production capacity from mid-February.
“We believe Pfizer is currently at fault,” said Domenico Arcuri, Italy’s special commissioner for the pandemic, in La Stampa newspaper on Saturday, confirming the country planned to take legal action against the company.
“The 20 percent reduction in Pfizer vaccine is not an estimate, but a sad security,” he said, adding that Italians’ health was not “negotiable”.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in a Facebook post on Saturday that all delays in the supply of vaccines constitute serious breaches of contractual agreements and cause “enormous damage” to Italy and other European countries.
On Friday, French Foreign Minister Clément Beaune called on Pfizer to “fulfill its commitments”.
( Jowharwith AFP)