An EU official told Reuters on Tuesday that AstraZeneca expects to deliver less than half of the Covid-19 vaccines it has contracted to supply the European Union in the second quarter.
The projected shortage, which has not previously been reported, comes after a significant drop in supplies in the first quarter and could hurt the European Union’s ability to meet its goal of vaccinating 70% of adults by summer.
The European Union official, who is directly involved in the talks with the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company, said the company had informed the bloc during internal meetings that it would “deliver less than 90 million doses in the second quarter.”
AstraZeneca’s contract with the European Union, which was leaked last week, showed that the company was committed to delivering 180 million doses to the 27-nation bloc in the second quarter.
“As we work incredibly hard to increase the productivity of our supply chain in the European Union, and try our best to take advantage of our global supply chain, we hope we can bring deliveries closer in line with the advance purchase agreement,” an AstraZeneca spokesperson said, declining. Comment on specific numbers.
A spokesman for the European Commission, which coordinates talks with vaccine manufacturers, said it could not comment on the discussions because they were confidential.
He said the EU should have more than enough shots to meet its vaccination targets if expected and agreed deliveries from other suppliers, regardless of the position with AstraZeneca, are met.
The European official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, confirmed that AstraZeneca plans to provide about 40 million doses in the first quarter, less than half of the 90 million doses it was supposed to provide.
AstraZeneca warned the European Union in January that it would not meet its commitments in the first quarter due to production problems.
It was also scheduled to deliver 30 million doses in the fourth quarter of 2020 but did not submit any shots last year because its vaccine has not yet been approved by the European Union.
Finally, AstraZeneca’s total supply to the European Union could reach around 130 million doses by the end of June, which is well below the 300 million it has committed to deliver to the Union by then.
The European Union has also faced delays in the delivery of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech in addition to the dose of Moderna. To date, it is the only vaccines approved for use by the European Union’s drug regulator.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine was licensed in late January, and some European Union member states like Hungary are also using Covid-19 shots developed in China and Russia.
Increase the output down the line?
While drugmakers developed Covid-19 vaccines at breakneck speed, many experienced manufacturing delays due to complex production processes, limited facilities and bottlenecks in supplying vaccine ingredients.
According to the German Health Ministry document dated February 22, AstraZeneca is expected to make up for all the shortfall in deliveries by the end of September.
The document seen by Reuters shows that Germany expects to receive 34 million doses in the third quarter, taking the total to 56 million doses, which is in line with its full quota of the 300 million doses AstraZeneca is slated to supply to the European Union.
The German Health Ministry could not be reached for comment.
If AstraZeneca increases production in the third quarter, that could help the European Union achieve the vaccination target, although the EU official said the bloc negotiators were cautious because the company did not clarify where the additional doses would come from.
“Bridging the supply gap in the third quarter may be unrealistic,” the official said, adding that the numbers for deliveries have been changed by the company several times.
European Union contracts stipulate that AstraZeneca will commit to “best reasonable efforts” to achieve a set schedule.
“We are constantly reviewing our delivery schedule and informing the European Commission on a weekly basis of our plans to bring more vaccines to Europe,” said an AstraZeneca spokesperson.
Under the European Union contract leaked last week, AstraZeneca has committed to producing vaccines for the block at two factories in the United Kingdom, one in Belgium and the other in the Netherlands.
However, European Union officials said the company is not currently issuing vaccines made in the UK, in line with its separate contract with the British government.
An EU official told Reuters last week that AstraZeneca also has vaccine factories in other locations around the world and has informed the European Union that it can provide more doses from its global supply chain, including from India and the United States.
Earlier this month, AstraZeneca said it expects to deliver more than 200 million doses per month globally by April, double the level of February, as it expands global capacity and productivity.