AstraZeneca Plc has informed the European Union to expect a shortfall in its deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines in the second quarter, reported Reuters.
The British–Swedish multinational pharmaceutical giant told the bloc during internal meetings that it “would deliver less than 90 million doses in the second quarter”, according to an EU official cited by the outlet.
The drugmaker planned to deliver about 40 million doses in the first quarter – also less than half the amount of jabs it developed with the University of Oxford and was under contract to supply, according to the source.
Problems at a vaccine factory in Belgium run by partner Novasep were reportedly cited.
A spokesman for AstraZeneca was quoted by the outlet as saying:
“We are hopeful that we will be able to bring our deliveries closer in line with the advance purchase agreement… We are continuously revising our delivery schedule and informing the European Commission on a weekly basis of our plans to bring more vaccines to Europe.”
In a subsequent statement on Tuesday, the company said its “most recent Q2 forecast for the delivery of its COVID-19 vaccine aims to deliver in line with its contract with the European Commission”.
“At this stage AstraZeneca is working to increase productivity in its EU supply chain and to continue to make use of its global capability in order to achieve delivery of 180 million doses to the EU in the second quarter,” reads the statement by the pharmaceutical company.
A spokesman for the European Commission that coordinates talks with vaccine manufacturers refused to comment on the ‘confidential’ discussions.
However, the official added, the outlet stated that the EU should have ‘more than enough shots’ to reach vaccination targets if agreed deliveries from other suppliers are met.
Closing the Gap ‘Unrealistic’
According to a German health ministry document dated 22 February and cited by the outlet, AstraZeneca is expected to compensate for shortfalls in deliveries by the end of September, with Germany to receive 34 million doses in the third quarter.
With its total jab deliveries to Germany projected to reach 56 million shots, this would be in line with the country’s share of 300 million doses AstraZeneca is under contract to supply to the bloc. There has not yet been any official comment on the report from the German health ministry.
However, while hiking up output in the third quarter could be conducive to helping the European Union meet its vaccination targets, the bloc’s negotiators were reportedly sceptical.
“Closing the gap in supplies in the third quarter might be unrealistic,” the EU official was cited as saying, emphasising that AstraZeneca is yet to clarify where the promised extra doses of vaccine would come from, and the drugmaker had changed its delivery figures many times before.
While the company is currently not exporting jabs made in the UK, in accordance with a separate contract with the country’s government, AstraZeneca has pledged to supply the bloc with inoculations from its global supply chain, including plants in India and the United States, an EU official was cited by Reuters as saying last week.
EU Vaccination Targets Under Threat
Earlier in February, AstraZeneca vowed it would boost productivity to churn out over 200 million doses per month globally by April - double February’s level.
The promise came after a month earlier the company warned the EU bloc that it would fall short of its first-quarter commitments, citing a spate of production issues.
Last year, the drugmaker was on course to deliver 30 million doses in the last quarter, but delayed approval of its vaccine by Brussels disrupted those plans.
Overall, AstraZeneca’s total supply to the EU by late June might reach 130 million doses instead of the promised 300 million it had originally committed to deliver by that timeline.
The current report also comes as AstraZeneca’s contract with the EU, leaked last week by Italian public broadcaster RAI, revealed the company had committed to delivering between 30 million and 40 million doses to the EU at the end of 2020, 80 million to 100 million doses by the end of the first quarter of 2021, and the total 300 million doses by the end of June.
It also clarified that British plants were supposed to be part of the EU supply chain. The UK supply deal relies on production at AstraZeneca's two facilities in Oxford and Wrexham, Wales.
The full publication of the European Union's contract with AstraZeneca also revealed that the European Commission and EU countries can't sue the drugmaker if there are "delays in delivery of the Vaccine under this Agreement".
The EU contract says the sole exception is if AstraZeneca fails to meet "Good Manufacturing Practices", or if a claim "arises from AstraZeneca's wilful misconduct or failure to comply with EU regulatory requirement".
Under the leaked EU contract, besides the two UK plants, AstraZeneca committed to producing vaccines at a facility in Belgium and one in the Netherlands.
Spat Over Jabs
Deliveries to the Continent had been the subject of a spat between the bloc and the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker, after the company revealed its deliveries would fall short by at least 75 million doses by the end of the first quarter.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had even threatened AstraZeneca with legal consequences.
The EU has also faced delays in deliveries of the vaccines developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, as well as Moderna -the only vaccines approved for use by the EU’s drug regulator. AstraZeneca’s vaccine was authorised in late January.
The EU has been facing flak for a slow vaccine rollout across the bloc, lagging behind countries like Israel and Britain. As of 21 February, 2021, the United Kingdom had the highest COVID-19 vaccination rate in Europe, having administered 26.81 doses per 100 people in the country.
On 19 January, when just over 5 million vaccines had been administered in the EU, the Commission revealed its bold targets to inoculate at least 80 percent of health workers and the elderly above the age of 80 by March, and 70 percent of the EU’s adult population by the end of the summer.