Bulgaria holds its horses with Pfizer, Moderna vaccines, puts hopes in AstraZeneca

Employees load boxes with the second batch of 25,000 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines against COVID-19, which arrived at Sofia Airport, Bulgaria, on 4 January 2021. [Vassil Donev/EPA/EFE]

For mass vaccination, Bulgaria’s strategy appears to rely on the new vaccine by AstraZeneca, rather than on those by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, already approved in the EU, EURACTIV Bulgaria reported on Friday (8 January), based on leaked documents and unofficial information.

Documents to which EURACTIV Bulgaria obtained access show that the country has been extremely frugal in ordering vaccines. According to a paper with data about all the member states, Bulgaria is part of a “frugal group”, together with the Czech Republic and Croatia, who have so far ordered vaccines roughly matching the number of their population.

In total, Bulgaria has ordered nine million vaccines. In contrast, Denmark, which has roughly the same population, has ordered more than 25 million doses of vaccine, of which six million from Moderna alone, compared to half a million of the same vaccine for Bulgaria.

France, with a population of 67 million, has ordered 160 million doses, while Italy has ordered 145 million vaccines for its 60 million citizens. Romania, with a population of 19.3 million, has ordered 43 million vaccines.

A European Commission spokesperson explained to EURACTIV Bulgaria that the EU executive’s main concern is the fair distribution of vaccines according to the population. For the rest, member states are free to have preferences or even exclude certain vaccines.

Other sources explained that countries ordering more vaccines intend to donate them to developing countries or neighbours, for example, Greece intends to donate vaccines to North Macedonia.

Denmark will receive approximately 722,000 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines by the end of March, compared to around 264,000 for Bulgaria. Added to the Moderna vaccines available, this means that in the absence of a third vaccine, not more than 2% of the Bulgarian population could be vaccinated with the currently approved jabs by 28 March, when parliamentary elections should be held.

What could improve the situation ahead of the poll is the appearance of a third mass vaccine, manufactured by AstraZeneca, which is already in use in the UK.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine has not been authorised yet by the EU authorities.

In contrast with earlier statements, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced on 8 January that a decision to authorise the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford coronavirus vaccine could be made by the end of the month.

“Possible conclusion – end of January, depending on data and evaluation progress,” EMA tweeted.

Unofficially, the Ministry of Health told EURACTIV Bulgaria that in early March, Bulgaria should receive half a million vaccines from AstraZeneca. It is with this vaccine that mass vaccination should be carried out in the country because it does not require a complex temperature storage regime.

Moreover, it is the cheapest vaccine. According to leaked information, the price the EU negotiated is €12 for Pfizer-BioNTech, $18 for Moderna, €8.50 for Johnson & Johnson, €10 for Curevac, €7.56 for Sanofi-GSK and only €1.78 for AstraZeneca.

AstraZeneca is expected to be the mass vaccine, but some circles in the EU have privately voiced their dislike for it because this British-Swedish company, based in Cambridge, is somehow seen as a symbol of a “successful Brexit”.

Consequently, with a good organisation, in March alone, 250,000 Bulgarians could be administered the British vaccine, of which Bulgaria will order a total of 4.5 million units. The unofficial information from the Ministry of Health suggests that AstraZeneca vaccine’s delivery in March seems quite realistic.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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