Bulgaria accuses AstraZeneca of taking country’s vaccine ‘hope’ away

A woman receives an injection of vaccine against COVID-19 at Military Medical Academy in Sofia, Bulgaria, 22 February 2021. The Government scrapped the phased strategy and offers vaccination to anyone who wants it, which has triggered a rising number of vaccinations in the EU country with the slowest inoculating rate. [Vassil Donev/EPA/EFE]

Bulgaria’s health minister has accused AstraZeneca of failing to stick to its delivery schedule of COVID-19 vaccines to the country and demanded the immediate shipment of at least 52,800 doses that were postponed to 1 March.

In a sharply worded letter, Health Minister Kostadin Angelov said AstraZeneca’s failure to comply with the agreed deliveries was compromising the massive vaccination campaign the Balkan country launched late last week.

The health ministry spokesman confirmed the authenticity of the letter, which was published on the website of Bulgaria’s NOVA television on Wednesday (24 February).

Dozens of Bulgarians have rushed to get a shot since Saturday, improving the country’s record of inoculations, which is the worst in the European Union, but also quickly depleting the supplies of AstraZeneca doses.

Lack of trust

The Prime Minister Boyko Borissov decided that anyone legally residing in Bulgaria could get the jab after it became clear that the so called “priority categories” were reluctant to take the AstraZeneca jab, expressing preferences for the other two vaccines available so far – Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.

AstraZeneca has told the EU it would cut vaccine deliveries to the 27-member bloc by 60% in the first quarter due to production problems. On Tuesday, an EU official told Reuters the company expected to deliver less than half of the doses it was contracted to supply to the bloc in the second quarter.

Under an EU scheme, Bulgaria ordered 4.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine and arranged to receive them over 7 months, initially expecting to receive 450,000 doses in February, but has so far received only 117,000 shots.

Two deliveries for a total of 142,400 doses, confirmed on 15 February, were now being delayed to 1 March and reduced by about two-thirds, the letter said.

In the letter, Angelov demanded the immediate delivery of at least the 52,800 doses promised for 1 March, saying that the Bulgarian government was ready to arrange air transport at its own expense as early as “tomorrow”.

“I emphasise that failure to stick to the announced delivery schedule by AstraZeneca compromises the vaccination campaign in Bulgaria,” Angelov wrote.

“With the lack of vaccines that were supposed to be delivered by your company the message that your company sends to the Bulgarian people would sound like this: ‘AstraZeneca has taken the hope out of your hands’,” he said.

EURACTIV has learnt that at an EU foreign affairs meeting earlier this week, ministers expressed enormous dissatisfaction with AstraZeneca’s behaviour toward the EU.

Compared to other EU countries, Bulgaria has a very liberal regime under the pandemic. To keep the electorate happy ahead of general elections on 4 April,  Borissov took the decision to open restaurants from 1 March and nightclubs from 1 April.

Bulgaria to open restaurants from March, nightclubs from April

Bulgaria will reopen restaurants from March and lift a ban on nightclubs from April, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said on Wednesday (24 February), betting on a vaccination programme and a solid number of recoveries from COVID-19.

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