AstraZeneca (AZN.L) has delivered a fresh blow to the European Union’s (EU) mountain of woes after announcing that it plans to cut deliveries of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The reduction will see deliveries to the EU cut by 60% to 31 million doses in the first quarter of the year. It blamed production problems, meaning the number of initial available doses would be lower than expected.
The jab developed in coordination with Oxford University is already in widespread use in Britain but the bloc has yet to approve it. The EU is expected to make a decision by 29 January. So far, the bloc has approved vaccines made by Pfizer (PFE) /BioNTech (BNTX) and Moderna (MRNA).
The bloc has a deal to purchase a minimum of 300 million doses from AstraZeneca, with an option for an additional 100 million, part of the drugmaker’s global commitments to supply more than 3 billion doses.
It was expected to deliver around 80 million doses to the 27 EU nations by the end of March, an EU official told Reuters.
The drugmaker confirmed the decline in deliveries without specifying the magnitude of the shortfall.
An AstraZeneca spokesman said: “Initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated due to reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain.”
“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,” the spokesperson said in a written statement on Friday.
The UK-based drugmaker was also due to deliver more than 80 million doses in the second quarter of 2021, but it was not able to indicate delivery targets for the April-June period amid production issues.
Responding to the announcement, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said on Twitter (TWTR) that EU governments “expressed deep dissatisfaction with this.”
"We insisted on a precise delivery schedule on the basis of which Member States should be planning their vaccination programs, subject to the granting of a conditional marketing authorisation,” Kyriakides said.
During today’s Steering Committee with Member States on the #EUVaccinesStrategy, @AstraZeneca representatives announced delays in the delivery of vaccines compared to the forecast for the first quarter of this year. /1
— Stella Kyriakides (@SKyriakidesEU) January 22, 2021
She added that the EU Commission “will continue to insist with AstraZeneca on measures to increase predictability and stability of deliveries, and acceleration of the distribution of doses.”
It is the second drug manufacturer that has warned on supply issues. Last week Pfizer and BioNTech slowed shipments and distribution proceeds unevenly among EU states.
This meant that some nations' inoculation programmes were slowed due to the cuts. The drugmakers are retooling a site in Belgium to boost output.
While the coronavirus vaccines have been developed and approved across the globe at record speeds, distribution and deliveries have been slower to EU nations.
European countries have administered more than five million doses to citizens so far. The bloc aims to inoculate 70% of adults by the end of August this year.
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