EU Governments Are Bracing for More Covid Vaccine Delays
(Bloomberg) -- European Union governments are bracing for further possible delays in the distribution of AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid vaccine after a warning from the European Commission that the manufacturer remains a problem, according to a diplomatic note seen by Bloomberg.
Astra Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said last month the company would look at tapping international supply chains to make up for some of the shortfall, including production in the U.S. It’s revised its delivery schedule multiple times, most recently committing to 40 million doses this quarter and 180 million in the second from an earlier goal of about 280 million across both periods.
But at a meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday, diplomats were told by senior EU officials that Astra continues to be “problematic.” They also heard that Johnson & Johnson, which could get market authorization from the European Medicines Agency on Thursday, has yet to provide a delivery schedule for its vaccine.
Also on Thursday, the EU said it was extending its vaccine export control mechanism to the end of June from mid-March, citing “persistent delays” in some deliveries.
On J&J, the EU had said in January that under the contract, the company would fill and finish a portion of its EU supply in the U.S., prompting concerns among some governments. The EU said at the time that it didn’t expect this to impact deliveries.
This week the commission told diplomats that it was looking into the possibility of finding some of that fill-finish capacity in other third countries as it wasn’t readily available in the EU, according to the note of the meeting.
Spokespeople for J&J and Astra declined to comment.
In a separate development, Denmark joined several other European countries in suspending the use of Astra’s shot in what it said was a precautionary move amid concerns over potentially dangerous side effects.
A spokesman for U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried to allay fears about the safety of the shot. “The important message is that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine remains safe, remains effective,” Jamie Davies told reporters on Thursday.
The EU diplomatic note added that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and U.S. President Joe Biden committed to coordinating on Covid-19, including on supply chains, in a call last week.
But EU officials were told that there won’t be an immediate fix for deliveries via the U.S. The White House has said it will focus on inoculating Americans first.
According to a draft of Italy’s latest vaccination plan, dated March 10 and seen by Bloomberg, the country expects to receive about 7 million doses of the J&J vaccine in the second quarter and almost 16 million in the third. A government official who asked not to be named said the expected schedule could be subject to change. Italy is so far the only EU country to have used the bloc’s export authorization mechanism to block a vaccine shipment.
At Wednesday’s meeting, EU diplomats heard that delivery of the Moderna and Pfizer Inc. vaccines for this quarter remain on track, and an agreement reached with Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE for the supply of four million more doses should start reaching member states in the next two weeks.
The diplomatic note adds that member states remain concerned about vaccine production and delivery, and a number of ambassadors called on the EU to strengthen its surveillance of delivery schedules and to keep governments in the loop on efforts to increase production capacity.
The number of shots sent by manufacturers to 29 countries in the bloc and wider European Economic Area now totals 54.2 million, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control that covers data through March 7. The total number of doses administered stands at 42.6 million.
According to the ECDC, 8.2% of adults have received one shot of the vaccine, with 3.7% being fully vaccinated.
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