European Union Resolves Dispute With AstraZeneca Over COVID Vaccine Deliveries – EU Officials Predict More Steady Supplies By April
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, speaking at the World Economic Forum last week as Europe grappled with COVID vaccine supply shortages.

AstraZeneca has agreed to increase its COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to the European Union by 30% after a week of feuding over a shortfall in vaccine deliveries, announced by the pharma company after its manufacturing plants hit a number of snags. 

By April or June, a series of manufacturing foul-ups reported by Pfizer as well as AstraZeneca, should be resolved, enabling the EU to reach its goal of vaccinating 70% of adults in across 27 member states by the end of the summer, officials are now saying.  

The British-Swedish AstraZeneca is reportedly two months behind schedule in vaccine deliveries to Europe due to an issue with manufacturing the vaccine’s active ingredient at plants in Belgium and the Netherlands, which is producing the vaccines destined for delivery to EU member states. 

Now, however, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which was authorized for use in the EU on Friday, will begin deliveries in the second week of February – and the company will expand its manufacturing capacity in Europe to meet high demand, according to Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission. 

Some 9 million additional doses will be delivered in February and March, for a total of 40 million doses to be delivered over the next two months. February will also see more deliveries than the 17 million doses that were originally promised by Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca. 

Although the coming two months will still be characterized by a shortage of vaccine supplies for the European region, the resolution seems to have quieted the tensions between AstraZeneca and EU officials after a series of recent meetings.. 

It represents a “step forward on vaccines,” wrote Von der Leyen on Twitter

Pfizer/BioNTech and J&J Also Plan To Step Up Deliveries In Second Quarter 2021 

In other good news for Europe, Von der Leyen said that Pfizer/BioNTech will deliver 75 million more doses than it had promised Europe in the second quarter of 2021 – for a total of up to 600 million doses total by the end of the year. This is likely due in part to the added commitment from Sanofi to assist BioNTech manufacture and supply over 125 million doses of the vaccine to the EU beginning in the summer of 2021. 

This represent “a pivotal step towards our industry’s collective goal of putting all the effort in to curb this pandemic,” said Paul Hudson, CEO of Sanofi, in a press release. “Although vaccination campaigns have started around the world, the ability to get shots into arms is being limited by lower than expected supplies and delayed approval timelines owing to production shortages. We have made the decision to support BioNTech and Pfizer in manufacturing their COVID-19 vaccine in order to help address global needs, given that we have the technology and facilities to do so.”


It is also expected that Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine will be on the European market by the second quarter of 2021 – although it has only demonstrated a 66% efficacy in preventing moderate to severe infection. And its results have been less impressive than other competitors, like Novavax, in meeting the challenge of virus variants.  

In a video conference on Sunday between Von der Leyen and the CEOs of six pharmaceutical companies – BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, J&J, Curevac and Sanofi – von der Leyen also launched the EU Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) to improve European bio-defense preparedness. 

HERA will work with the pharmaceutical industry to fund the design and development of vaccines targeting COVID-19 variants and to scale up manufacturing in the short and medium term. 

“The pandemic highlighted that manufacturing capacities are a limiting factor. It is essential to address these challenges,” said a European Commission press release published on Sunday. 

Experts Warn United States to Prepare for Spread of COVID-19 Variant 

Meanwhile, experts are warning the US to prioritize administering single doses of COVID-19 vaccines to as many people as possible before the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in the UK, becomes the dominant strain in the US.

In mid-January, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicted that the B.1.1.7 variant would become the predominant variant in the US by March. Between 13 and 31 January, the variant spread from 12 states to 32.

Increased SARS-CoV-2 infection, caused by the more contagion variant, “might threaten strained health care resources, require extended and more rigorous implementation of public health strategies, and increase the percentage of population immunity required for pandemic control,” stated the CDC report

“The surge that is likely to occur with this new variant from England is going to happen in the next six to 14 weeks,” said Michael Osterholm, top US epidemiology and advisor on COVID-19 to President Joe Biden’s transition team, in an interview with NBC on Sunday. “If we see that happen…we are going to see something like we have not seen yet in this country.” 

Two weeks ago, the CDC quietly updated its guidance for immunizations to extend the interval between the first and second doses up to six weeks in “exceptional situations.” This would potentially allow for the kind of change in vaccinations recommended by some experts.

“We still want to get two doses in everyone, but I think right now in advance of this surge, we need to get as many one doses in as many people over 65 as we possibly can to reduce the serious illnesses and deaths that are going to occur over the weeks ahead,” said Osterholm.

Image Credits: Twitter.

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