Pfizer has slashed in half the volume of COVID-19 vaccines it will deliver to some EU countries this week, government officials said on Thursday, as frustration grows over the U.S. drugmaker’s unexpected cut in supplies.
Romania will get 50 per cent of its planned volume this week and supplies will only improve gradually, with deliveries not returning to normal until the end of March, Deputy Health Minister Andrei Baciu told Reuters.
It was a similar situation in Poland, which on Monday received 176,000 doses, a drop of around 50 per cent from what was expected, authorities said.
The Czech government was bracing for the disruption to last for weeks, slowing its vaccination campaign just as the second dose of vaccinations get underway.
“We have to expect that there will be a reduction in the number of open vaccination appointments in the following three weeks,” Health Minister Jan Blatny told reporters on Thursday, with Pfizer deliveries falling by about 15 per cent this week and as much as 30 per cent for the following two weeks.
Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have declined to comment on the cuts beyond their statement last week, which announced cuts to deliveries as they ramp up manufacturing in Europe.
Some countries reckon they can handle it. Norway has an emergency stockpile and will continue administering doses as planned, the government’s public health body said.
The U.S. drugmaker has told Bulgaria and Poland it will replace missing doses, top officials said.
But Denmark’s Serum Institute said its 50 per cent loss of shots this week would lead to a 10 per cent shortfall for the first quarter.
Italy reacts angrily
With governments across the region still reeling from the surprise cuts, officials say the reductions are undermining their efforts to inoculate their citizens and tame the pandemic, which has killed more than two million people.
On Wednesday, Italy threatened legal action against Pfizer, after the company said it was was cutting its deliveries by 29 per cent to the Mediterranean country.
Pfizer’s move was having a serious impact on vaccination plans drawn up by local authorities, the governor of the northern Emilia Romagna region said.
“Due to the reduction in doses, many regions have been forced to slow down or even suspend new vaccinations to ensure administration of the second dose to those who had already received the first,” Stefano Bonaccini told Reuters in an email.
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In Hungary, where the authorities gave the go ahead for the use of Britain’s AstraZeneca and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines ahead of the EU drug regulator, a senior official called on Brussels to try and ensure that deliveries from Pfizer and other vaccine makers would stick to schedule.
“We would be happy if the [European] Commission could take steps as soon as possible to ensure that Pfizer and other manufacturers would change deliveries,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas said.
The problem has spread to countries outside the trading bloc, too – Canada is facing delays, as is Switzerland, where the mountain canton of Grisons got only 1,000 shots from Pfizer this week, far short of the 3,000 it had been anticipating.
The EU has approved the Moderna vaccines, but the authorization came a few weeks after similar action in Canada, the United States, Britain and Israel, with the first deliveries made only a week or so ago.
Moderna has committed to delivering 10 million doses by the end of March and 35 million each in the second and third quarter, reflecting a process that will take time to ramp up. Another 80 million doses are also to be delivered this year but without a clear timetable yet.
Meanwhile, at a meeting of EU health ministers last week, Belgium said bottlenecks in the supply of the so-called Low Dead Space syringes were likely when Pfizer begins to deliver bigger volumes of its shots.
A Belgian diplomat said the country had urged the EU executive commission to speed up joint procurement for syringes to avoid “unnecessary delays.”
While there is no immediate shortage of the syringes — which are designed to ensure the maximum amount of vaccine is extracted from vials — there are not enough syringes for mass vaccination, a spokeswoman for the Lithuanian health ministry told Reuters on Thursday, saying the Baltic country had joined the EU procurement scheme.
“What is now not a problem, can easily become a very big problem tomorrow,” she said.