Londres (CNN Business) — The European Union is challenging vaccine makers AstraZeneca and Pfizer over delivery delays that could delay their recovery from the pandemic. Officials even threaten to take legal action and impose export controls on doses produced in the European bloc as anger mounts.
AstraZeneca will not be able to deliver as many doses of its vaccine as promised, according to European Union officials, putting governments’ implementation plans at risk. The news comes after Pfizer said last week that it had delivered fewer doses of its vaccine than expected.
European Union Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides on Monday expressed dissatisfaction with the talks with AstraZeneca and said they will continue. He said the drugmaker “intends to deliver considerably less doses in the coming weeks than agreed and announced.”
The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, increased the pressure on pharmaceutical companies on Tuesday, saying that the bloc “is serious”.
‘Europe invested billions to help develop the world’s first covid-19 vaccines, to create a truly global common good. And now companies must comply. They must fulfill their obligations, “he said during a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum.
The countries of the European Union that have vaccines to stop the health crisis and reactivate their economies are now forced to modify their plans. Italy’s Deputy Health Minister Pierpaolo Sileri told Rai 1 television on Sunday that people over 80 would be vaccinated four weeks later than planned as a result of the delays. The country threatens to take legal action against drug manufacturers.
“By the fall we could vaccinate up to 45 million Italians, but I don’t believe in these companies,” Sileri said. “I want to see the vaccines.”
Unexpected delays with AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines
The European Union has requested 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which could be approved for use as early as this week, with the option to purchase an additional 100 million.
The company said production has been hampered by a manufacturing problem.
“While there is no scheduled delay for the start of shipments of our vaccine should we receive approval in Europe, initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated due to reduced yields at a manufacturing site within from our European supply chain, ”AstraZeneca said in a statement. “We will supply tens of millions of doses in February and March to the European Union, while we continue to increase production volumes.”
The news has staggered the bloc, just as it was rushing to assess the impact of the delays announced by Pfizer. The US company said on January 15 that it would deliver fewer doses than planned last week, while upgrading its manufacturing facilities in Puurs, Belgium.
The drugmaker said it could still meet first-quarter targets and, as a result of changes at its Belgium plant, could produce 2 billion doses by the end of 2021. That’s more than the 1.3 billion it originally had. estimated.
Pfizer said Monday that it would return to its original delivery schedule for the European Union this week.
European governments are demanding answers, pointing out that the success of their vaccination efforts depends on the private sector.
“On the one hand, we can only welcome the outcome of science, and on the other hand, they have a monopoly and we are totally dependent,” Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said on Saturday. “There may be production problems, but these uncertainties and announcements make it very difficult to organize the campaign.”
Kyriakides said on Monday that the bloc will now demand “full transparency regarding the export of vaccines” from the European Union.
“In the future, all companies that produce vaccines against covid-19 in the European Union will have to notify in advance every time they want to export vaccines to third countries. Humanitarian deliveries, of course, are not affected by this, ”he said on Twitter.
How bad is it?
Supply chain experts are far more concerned about the AstraZeneca news than they are about Pfizer, given the latter’s commitment to ramping up production soon. AstraZeneca’s vaccine, developed with the University of Oxford, is also much easier to distribute because it can be stored at higher temperatures than Pfizer’s alternative.
A delay of a week or two “is not a big problem,” said Burak Kazaz, professor of Supply Chain Management at Syracuse University. «[Aunque] I certainly understand that a delay means [la pérdida de] lives.
The scope of the problems AstraZeneca faces, which appear more serious, will become clear in the coming weeks, he said.
The delays for both companies are a sign that there are still supply chain issues that need to be addressed as distribution increases, according to Prashant Yadav, a medical supply chain expert and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.
“We will have more of these ups and downs until we get to a stable process,” Yadav said.
Given difficult attempts to catch up – and the concentration of production at just a few manufacturing sites – the public should expect monthly manufacturing capacity to fluctuate for the time being, he added.
Richard Wilding, Professor of Supply Chain Strategy at Cranfield University, England, noted that there are at least 50 items needed to manage vaccination sites, from alcohol wipes and syringes to personal protective equipment. Supply chains for those items must also run smoothly.
Fundamentally, delays are not just a problem for Europe.
“The price will be paid by developing countries that do not yet have access, because their deliveries may be delayed later,” Yadav said.
– James Frater, Chris Liakos, Amanda Sealy and Stephanie Halasz contributed to this note.