by Francesco Guarascio
BRUSSELS, Feb 17 (Reuters) – Pfizer has fallen about 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses short of the amount due to the European Union in December, EU officials said.
This leaves it now one-third short of the supplies it expected from the U.S. company.
The delay is another blow to the EU, which has also been hit by delays in deliveries from Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca and U.S. company Moderna and had also faced earlier delays on the Pfizer vaccine.
By the middle of last week, Pfizer had delivered to the EU 23 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with German firm BioNTech, said an EU official who is directly involved in talks with the U.S. company.
That was about 10 million doses less than Pfizer had promised to supply by mid-February, said a second official who is also involved in the talks.
Pfizer declined to comment, saying schedules of its deliveries are confidential. The executive European Commission did not respond to a request for comment on delivery shortfalls.
EU officials have said Pfizer committed to delivering 3.5 million doses a week from the start of January, for a total of 21 million shots by mid-February.
There was a temporary hiccup in supplies in mid-January which EU officials say was largely resolved last month. But a lot of doses that were due to arrive in December are still missing, the two EU officials said.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was approved for use in the EU on Dec. 21. The following day, BioNTech said the companies would ship to the EU 12.5 million doses by the end of the month.
Only about two million of those doses due in December have been delivered, according to Reuters calculations.
The shortfall would amount to about 30 per cent of the total supplies pledged for the period from December until mid-February.
One EU official said the company had committed to delivering the missing doses by the end of March.
The EU has two contracts with Pfizer for the supply of 600 million vaccine doses.
Although the EU’s own supplies have fallen short, the European Commission has approved all requests for export of COVID-19 vaccines – mostly from Pfizer/BioNTech – since it set up its mechanism to monitor flows.
In the period between Jan. 30 and Feb. 16, the EU gave the green light to 57 requests for vaccine export to 24 countries, including Britain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a Commission spokesperson said on Wednesday.
Before the monitoring scheme was set up, the bloc had already exported millions of vaccines to Israel, Britain, and Canada among others, mostly Pfizer’s, according to customs data cited in an EU document seen by Reuters.
Israel has administered a number of vaccines equal to more than 75 per cent of its population, including first and second doses administered, figures from University of Oxford-based Our World in Data show. The figure for the UAE is around 50 per cent and for Britain it is above 20 per cent, while EU countries on average stand at about five per cent.
Countries with a high number of inoculations are already vaccinating people who are not among the most vulnerable, while those most in need elsewhere have not yet had a shot.
The World Health Organization has set the target of inoculating 20 per cent of poor countries’ population by the end of the year.