AstraZeneca will increase its coronavirus vaccine deliveries to the EU by 30%, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Sunday (31 January) as the bloc sought to claw back time lost rolling out the jabs.
The British-Swedish company had announced last week that it could deliver only a quarter of the doses originally promised to the bloc for the first quarter of the year because of problems at one of its European factories.
But AstraZeneca, whose vaccine was authorised for use in the EU on Friday, has now agreed to send 9 million additional doses and “will start deliveries one week earlier than scheduled”, Von der Leyen said in a tweet.
Step forward on vaccines.@AstraZeneca will deliver 9 million additional doses in the first quarter (40 million in total) compared to last week’s offer & will start deliveries one week earlier than scheduled.
The company will also expand its manufacturing capacity in Europe.
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) January 31, 2021
An EU source said the first deliveries would start in the second week of February.
AstraZeneca would also extend its production capacity in Europe, Von der Leyen added.
The EU leader was tweeting after talks Sunday with the leaders of the drugs companies that have signed vaccine contracts with the EU.
She told Germany’s ZDF broadcaster the new doses represented an increase of 30% on the previous order.
“They are bringing forward the delivery now by another week…and they will increase the vaccine doses for February and March by about 30%, that is 9 million doses,” von der Leyen said.
But she also acknowledged that February and March would remain “a difficult phase” for vaccine supply.
Moreover, the EU executive warned that the emergence of variants of the virus raises the imminent threat of reduced efficacy of recently approved vaccines.
“It is crucial to prepare for the appearance of such variants,” the Commission said in a statement, adding that the discussion between von der Leyen and pharma industry CEOs “explored requirements for very rapid development, manufacturing and regulatory approval of vaccines for COVID19 variants in the EU”.
EU vaccine supply pressures
In the second quarter, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be on the market “and the manufacturers will have resolved their initial difficulties, so we can expect more vaccine”, von der Leyen said.
The aim was still to vaccinate 70% of adults in the EU by the end of summer, she added.
The EU has come under increasing pressure in recent days as it was forced to revise its original vaccination targets in the face of supply problems.
On January 19, it said it aimed to vaccinate 80% of health professionals and people aged over 80 by March.
But problems at AstraZeneca and with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have threatened those plans.
Brussels has implicitly accused AstraZeneca of giving preferential treatment to Britain in the delivery of its vaccine, at the expense of the EU.
It last week demanded an inspection of the Belgian industrial site said to be responsible for the AstraZeneca delay, which is managed by a sub-contractor.
Germany’s government on Sunday threatened any laboratory that failed to respect their obligations with legal action.
Top German officials are due to meet with the drugs manufacturers to thrash out the problems over the delays on Monday.
In an interview on Sunday evening, von der Leyen also rejected suggestions that Europe was in a race to vaccinate its population against the coronavirus faster than other countries, saying that it was important to cooperate at this stage of the pandemic.
The EUs civil service is under fire over the slow pace of vaccination in the bloc, with critics pointing to faster progress being made in Britain, Israel and the United States as evidence of a planning failure in Brussels.
“I think the only race we are in is with the virus and against time,” Ursula von der Leyen told German television on Sunday evening, adding that she had agreed with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that factories in both regions would deliver doses to each region.