EU states express 'severe concern' as Pfizer temporarily reduces Covid-19 vaccine deliveries

A healthcare worker stacks vials of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus disease at the Posta Central hospital in Santiago, Chile on January 14, 2021.
A healthcare worker stacks vials of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus disease at the Posta Central hospital in Santiago, Chile on January 14, 2021. © Ivan Alvarado, REUTERS

A global coronavirus vaccine rollout suffered a major blow Friday as Pfizer said it would delay shipments of the jabs in the next three to four weeks due to works at its key plant in Belgium.

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Pfizer said the modifications at the Puurs factory were necessary in order to ramp up its production capacity from mid-February of the vaccine developed with Germany's BioNTech.

There will be "a significant increase" in deliveries in late February and March, the US group promised.

Six European Union health ministers on Friday signed a letter to the European Commission to express "severe concern" over delivery delays for the coronavirus vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer.

Ministers from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden said in their letter that the situation was "unacceptable" and "decreases the credibility of the vaccination process".

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen later said Pfizer's CEO had guaranteed the delivery of all doses of the coronavirus ordered by the bloc for the first quarter of 2021.

"I got, like many of you, the news today that Pfizer announced delays," Von der Leyen said at a press conference in Portugal.

"I immediately called the CEO of Pfizer and he explained that there is a production delay in the next weeks, but he reassured me that all guaranteed doses of the first quarter will be delivered in the first quarter," she said.

"At short notice, the EU Commission and, via it, the EU member states, were informed that Pfizer will not be able to fully meet the already promised delivery volume for the next three to four weeks due to modifications at the Puurs plant," the German health ministry had said earlier.

Speaking to news of the delay, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) said in a statement earlier on Friday, "We received this message today a little before 10am (0900 GMT). We had expected 43,875 vaccines doses from Pfizer in week 3 (next week). Now it appears that we will get 36,075 doses."

The reduction in deliveries is due to Pfizer limiting output so that it can upgrade production capacity to 2 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses per year from 1.3 billion currently, the FHI said.

"This temporary reduction will affect all European countries," said the FHI. "It is as yet not precisely clear how long time it will take before Pfizer is up to maximum production capacity again."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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