EU inoculation drive hit as AstraZeneca cuts Covid-19 vaccine supply by 60%

Decrease, citing production woes, deals another blow after Pfizer slowed supplies to EU last week

People resting in a waiting area after getting the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at Salisbury Cathedral in Britain. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country may need to roll out additional measures to safeguard its borders from new Covid-19 variants.
People resting in a waiting area after getting the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at Salisbury Cathedral in Britain. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country may need to roll out additional measures to safeguard its borders from new Covid-19 variants.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BRUSSELS • AstraZeneca has informed European Union (EU) officials it would slash supplies of its Covid-19 vaccine to the bloc by 60 per cent to 31 million doses in the first quarter of the year due to production problems.

The decrease deals another blow to Europe's inoculation drive after Pfizer and partner BioNTech slowed supplies of their vaccine to the EU last week, saying the move was needed because of work to ramp up production.

AstraZeneca was expected to deliver about 80 million doses to the 27 EU countries by the end of March. A senior official, who was involved in the talks, told Reuters that the firm planned to begin deliveries from Feb 15, in line with original plans.

AstraZeneca confirmed the drop in shipments without giving specific details on the magnitude of the shortfall.

"Initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated due to reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain," a spokesman said in a written statement on Friday.

"We will be supplying tens of millions of doses in February and March to the European Union, as we continue to ramp up production volumes," he added of the vaccine developed with Oxford University.

The Britain-based drugmaker had also agreed to provide more than 80 million doses in the second quarter. On Friday, the EU official, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said the company was not able to provide updated delivery targets for the April to June period due to the production issues.

AstraZeneca told EU officials at a meeting that the cut was due to production problems at a factory in Belgium run by its partner Novasep, the EU official said.

EU governments "expressed deep dissatisfaction with this", EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides tweeted after the announcement.

The EU drug regulator is due to decide on approval of AstraZeneca's vaccine this Friday.

It has already received emergency authorisation in Britain.

The EU has a deal to buy at least 300 million doses from AstraZeneca, with an option for another 100 million, part of the company's global commitments to supply more than three billion doses.

The latest blow comes as the British government said a new strain of coronavirus may be more deadly than first thought.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last Friday that new evidence had led the government to revise its initial view that the variant was more contagious but not more dangerous.

It may be 30 per cent more deadly than the original strain - or more, a government analysis found.

"In addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant - the variant that was first identified in London and the South-east - may be associated with a higher degree of mortality," Mr Johnson said.

He also warned again that the country faces a long wait before it can emerge from lockdown.

British ministers are to discuss on Monday further tightening of travel restrictions, the BBC reported yesterday, adding that people arriving in the country could be required to quarantine in hotels.

Mr Johnson told a news conference on Friday that Britain may need to implement further measures to protect its borders from new Covid-19 variants.

Meanwhile, Belgium will ban non-essential trips out of the country from Wednesday in a bid to curb the spread of infections, especially highly contagious variants, a government official said.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 24, 2021, with the headline 'EU inoculation drive hit as AstraZeneca cuts vaccine supply by 60%'. Subscribe