Pfizer supply woes for Europe as UK steers ahead with vaccination

LaToya Harding
·Contributor
·3-min read
A woman receives the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at Santa Maria hospital in Lisbon, Portugal, December 27, 2020. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
The US pharmaceutical giant, which has partnered with Germany’s BioNTech, has slowed shipments and distribution proceeds unevenly among states in the European Union (EU). Photo: Reuters/Pedro Nunes

A string of European countries have said that the amount of COVID-19 vaccines they are receiving from Pfizer (PFE) has fallen short of their expected supplies.

The US pharmaceutical giant, which has partnered with Germany’s BioNTech (BNTX), has slowed shipments and distribution proceeds unevenly among states in the European Union (EU).

It comes as the UK, which has been among the leaders in getting people inoculated relatively swiftly, has ramped up its own vaccination programme in the country.

Britain is currently leading the continent’s vaccination race, after becoming the first country to approve the Pfizer jab. Around 2.2 million people have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine between 8 December 2020 to 10 January 2021 in the UK so far, with mass vaccinations sites also opening on Monday.

The coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer were first delivered to the EU at the end of last year, while Moderna’s (MRNA) vaccine only started being delivered this week after late approval from the bloc.

Pfizer and BioNTech have two contracts with the EU for the supply of up to 600 million doses in 2021. The UK ordered 40 million doses in total, enough to inoculate 20 million people, under a third of the total population of 67 million.

However, sources told Reuters that one-third of the 27 EU governments said they had “insufficient” doses of vaccines at a video conference of health ministers on Wednesday.

They added that there were also issues with timetabling future deliveries. Pfizer and BioNTech had also agreed to deliver 75 million doses in the second quarter and more later in the year.

Pfizer admitted on Friday that there would be a temporary impact on shipments in late January to early February caused by changes to manufacturing processes to boost production.

Six ministers — from Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark and Sweden — are urging the health commissioner to demand Pfizer publicly explain the delays and "stress the need to ensure stability and transparency of timely deliveries."

READ MORE: Pfizer says their COVID-19 vaccine ‘95% effective in over 65s’

Earlier on Friday, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) said in a statement, "We received this message today a little before 10am. We had expected 43,875 vaccine doses from Pfizer in week 3 (next week). Now it appears that we will get 36,075 doses."

“The manufacturer told us the cuts are EU-wide,”, Lithuanian health ministry spokesman Vytautas Beniusis told Reuters.

An Italian official also said on Friday that lower-than-expected amounts were delivered to Italy at the beginning of January, but that the issue now seemed largely resolved.

Earlier this month, Belgium said it expected to receive only around half of the planned doses of the Pfizer vaccine in January due to a logistical issue. Lithuania said it was told this week its supplies would be halved until mid-February, the newswire said.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine requires super-cold storage of -70C. However, it can be stored for up to five days at 2-8°C, which is possible in a normal fridge.

Pfizer/BioNTech announced on 18 November that their vaccine protected 95% of people from COVID-19, and that it was equally effective across all ethnicities.

Watch: Vaccine rollout delayed in Europe as global COVID deaths near 2 million