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A warning from AstraZeneca that initial shipments of its COVID vaccines to Europe will be lower than expected has sparked new concerns about the introduction of vaccines, forcing some countries to plan a sharp drop in shipments.
The UK pharmaceutical company’s announcement on Friday followed another announcement by Pfizer last week that it would delay delivery of its vaccine for up to a month due to work at its main plant in Belgium.
The companies’ warnings stem from mounting concerns about new COVID-19 variants, particularly one that has emerged in the UK and is believed to be more contagious than the original strain.
Overall, Europe has now recorded more than 692,000 deaths and almost 32 million infections.
The European Union has so far approved vaccines from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, as well as from the US company Moderna. It has not yet approved the vaccine from AstraZeneca and its partner, the University of Oxford, but is expected to make a decision by Jan. 29.
AstraZeneca said in its statement that if EU approval is granted, “initial quantities will be lower than expected”, although the launch would not be delayed.
The company blamed “reduced yields at a production site within our European supply chain”.
It would definitely supply the EU with “millions of cans” while ramping up production in February and March, she added.
The announcement sparked “deep dissatisfaction” among EU member states who “insisted on a precise delivery schedule,” said EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.
“Very, very bad news”
Austrian Health Minister Rudolf Anschober called it “very, very bad news” and said his country would only receive a little more than half of the expected 650,000 AstraZeneca cans in February.
Lithuania expects AstraZeneca cans to be reduced by 80 percent in the first quarter.
Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said about the delay. “It will disrupt our plans.”
Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in a post on his Facebook page that the government was considering legal action against AstraZeneca’s “unacceptable” announcement.
“If the 60 percent reduction in cans distributed in the first quarter were to be confirmed, it would mean 3.4 million cans would be shipped to Italy instead of eight million cans,” he wrote.
Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said on public television that the government signed a deal with AstraZeneca for 1.5 million doses of vaccine in the first quarter.
Now, “AstraZeneca says it will be half, instead of 1.5 million it will be 650,000,” he said, calling it “very bad news” while admitting that given the complicated process, there may be production problems.
However, some government officials tried to reassure their countries – tired and battered by months of the pandemic and already up to date on slow vaccinations.
“We have new vaccines on the way. We have Pfizer, which is increasing its production capacity,” French Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told French radio.
Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Saturday that France has now passed the one million vaccination mark.
The EU has initially ordered up to 400 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and signed contracts for more than two billion vaccine doses for a total population of 450 million.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has the advantage of being cheaper to manufacture and easier to store and transport than its competitors.
Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn said that “AstraZeneca deliveries will take place in February after the expected approval of the sting in a week.”
But he added: “How much do we have to clarify with AstraZeneca and the European Union in the coming days.”
Swedish national vaccination coordinator Richard Bergstrom said he expected his country to receive around 700,000 doses in the first month after the vaccine was approved, compared to a million originally expected.
Norway, which is not an EU member but follows decisions made by the bloc’s EMA regulator, said it was “disappointed”.
The health authority now expects to receive only 200,000 AstraZeneca doses in February – far fewer than the 1.12 million originally expected.
The Pfizer delay announced last week continued to attract criticism.
Pfizer said Jan. 15 that changes were needed at its Puurs factory to increase vaccine production capacity from mid-February.
“We believe Pfizer is currently to blame,” Italy’s special commissioner for the pandemic, Domenico Arcuri, told La Stampa newspaper on Saturday, confirming that the country plans to take legal action against the company.
“The 20 percent reduction in Pfizer’s vaccine supply is not an estimate, but a sad certainty,” he said, adding that Italians’ health is non-negotiable.
The French Minister for European Affairs, Clement Beaune, called on Pfizer on Friday to “honor its commitments”.
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Quote: New vaccine delivery warning raises EU concern (2021, January 24), accessed on January 24, 2021 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-01-vaccine-eu.html
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