AstraZeneca has warned European Union countries to expect significantly less coronavirus vaccines in their early shipments, in a further blow to the bloc’s vaccination program progress, European officials said.
The reduction could well represent more than half of the 100 million doses of the company previously expected by the EU for the first quarter, according to people familiar with the discussions, although the figures have not yet been clearly defined.
AstraZeneca insisted that there is no “time frame” for the start of vaccine shipments, but that “initial volumes” will be “lower than initially expected due to reduced production at one site. of the European supply chain ”.
“We will deliver tens of millions of doses in February and March to the EU, while continuing to increase production volumes,” the company said, adding that the change in expected volumes does not affect the UK.
Details of deliveries to the EU in the first quarter were still being decided, but could be less than 40 million doses, according to several European authorities. The uncertainty is in part due to the fact that tentative timetables depend on when the vaccine receives regulatory approval, which could take place next week.
“It doesn’t look good in the short term,” said an official of AstraZeneca’s vaccine stocks. Another called the proposed shortage “significant”, while another called it “disgrace”, reflecting growing frustration in Europe with problems with the Covid-19 vaccination program.
The European Commission said: “We want to have vaccines as soon as possible and within the framework of the agreements”.
The news is particularly problematic for EU countries as they have been betting heavily on the AstraZeneca vaccine and gearing up for what they hope will be their imminent regulatory approval.
The vaccine, made in collaboration with the University of Oxford, was the first pre-ordered by the European bloc, and the 400 million doses of the two-application regimen would cover nearly half of the region’s population, or 446 million. .
The interruption will increase the great anxiety in EU countries about the delay in starting the vaccination against Covid-19, compared to some other wealthy countries, notably the United States and the United Kingdom. Concerns escalated this week as European countries tightened travel rules, reacting to fears over the spread of highly transmissible coronavirus variants identified in the UK and elsewhere.
This month, European governments criticized Pfizer’s decision to temporarily cut off the supply of the vaccine developed with BioNTech to European countries. The company insists that the supply will be done later and that the measure will help it increase production in the second half of the year.
The UK is the only country in Europe to have approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has helped UK health authorities create their vaccination program. U.S. approval is not expected until April, U.S. officials said.
The vaccine was controversial after observers questioned the integrity of the test data that supported the efficacy figures – Oxford and AstraZeneca defended the integrity of their tests.
Before the delays were announced, some capitals said AstraZeneca would need to deliver doses even before receiving clearance from the block’s medical regulator.
Four countries – Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Greece – wrote to European Council President Charles Michel this week to present the idea of a “pre-authorization distribution”, which would allow them to begin immunizing the population when approval is received.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen promoted the early distribution thesis during leaders’ talks on Thursday evening (21), people briefed on the matter said.
However, the commission cast doubts on such a move, saying drug companies are unlikely to agree to take legal responsibility for the release of doses before formally authorizing the vaccine.
Translation by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves