Italy’s Draghi Pressures Big Pharma With Vaccine Target at Risk

Prime Minister Mario Draghi is raising pressure on drugmakers in a bid to speed up vaccine deliveries as Italy risks missing a key target in its inoculation campaign.

The former head of the European Central Bank is talking regularly to chief executive officers at vaccine makers in an attempt to obtain additional supplies and bring deliveries forward, according to officials who asked not to be named discussing confidential discussions. Draghi is acting within European Union efforts, the officials said.

Italy risks failing to meet its latest target of ensuring 500,000 vaccinations a day by end-April, plagued by supply delays, organizational difficulties and people refusing shots of the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine amid concerns about side effects. Draghi had originally set a goal of half a million shots per day by mid-April.

Italy, which this week eased some lockdown restrictions weighing on the economy, has inoculated an average of about 280,000 people a day in the last seven days, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, lagging behind Germany at about half a million, Spain at 346,000 and France at 300,000.

EU Efforts

Draghi’s talks with pharmaceutical companies are part of similar efforts by other EU leaders and by the European Commission, one of the officials said. Italy is respecting EU-wide contracts ensuring an equitable distribution and is eager to avoid a free-for-all in which the bloc’s member states fight each other for supplies, the official said.

Draghi’s talks with big pharma are aimed at ensuring delivery schedules are respected, or even brought forward, with Italy due to receive 52.5 million shots in the second quarter, one official said. A little over 80% of vaccine supplies are currently being held back for second shots.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have also held talks in recent weeks with drugmakers regarding supplies.

Underscoring the difficulty of meeting its objective, Italy is targeting about 315,000 daily vaccinations between April 16 and April 22, according to a statement Monday by General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo, picked by Draghi to head the pandemic emergency response.

More than 4.2 million doses will be delivered to health facilities across the country between April 15 and April 22, including more than 3 million from Pfizer Inc. and BioNtech, and a first batch of more than 180,000 from Johnson & Johnson, the statement said.

Changing Strategy

Italy last week refocused its vaccination strategy, prioritizing people over 80 years of age, rather than categories including school staff as well as police and military personnel. The country has so far vaccinated about 70% of people over the age of 80, but only about 3% in the 70-80 age range have been given two doses.

Concerns that the AstraZeneca shot could trigger a rare and potentially deadly blood-clotting condition have fueled reluctance to the drug, with about 80% of people refusing it in Sicily, according to the region’s governor. The island has recorded some cases of blood clots.

The Draghi administration has played down the concerns over AstraZeneca, with an official saying that the overwhelming majority of people have quickly come to accept it. The government has said it plans to reach 80% vaccine coverage by the end of September.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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