AstraZeneca to deliver less than 40% of promised vaccines in second quarter
Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is again struggling with vaccine delivery to the European Union. In the second quarter, the company will deliver 70 million vaccines to the EU, less than half of the 180 million that was agreed on, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.
“AstraZeneca has unfortunately underproduced & underdelivered. This painfully reduced the speed of the vaccination campaign,” Von der Leyen said. “As for AstraZeneca unfortunately, they will only deliver some 70 million doses. This is down from the 180 million doses that they are contractually committed to deliver" to the EU in the second quarter of 2021.
The Netherlands originally expected 6.8 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines in quarter two. That expectation was decreased to 5.2 million on Januray 5 and then to 4 million on February 23, after Reuters reported that AstraZeneca would deliver less than 90 million doses to the EU in the second quarter. Now that the expected delivery is even lower, the Netherlands can expect around 2.7 million doses from April through June.
In a letter to parliament on March 8 De Jonge warned about “increasing pressure on vaccine deliveries worldwide.” He said manufactures are facing problems obtaining the raw materials and resources needed to increase production. “This is partly due to scarcity, but also due to policy choices in countries, for example the use of the National Defense Act in the United States. Unfortunately, this also has consequences for deliveries to the EU and thus to the Netherlands.”
"If needed we'll reflect on how to adjust exports based on reciprocity and, in the case of countries with higher vaccination rates than us, proportionality," Von der Leyen said on Wednesday.
On February 23, when the AstraZeneca second quarter delivery problems were first speculated, De Jonge said that halving the delivery could cause real difficulties for the Netherlands' vaccination plans. He also called AstraZeneca a very complicated company which made it hard to pin down on agreements.
Just a week later, De Jonge said that if expected deliveries happened according to plan, all Netherlands residents who want to be vaccinated against the coronavirus can have at least their first shot by July. This late delivery could put significant strain on that goal.
According to figures from public health institute RIVM, as of March 14 the Netherlands received 800 thousand of the expected 1.5 million AstraZeneca doses in the first quarter. AstraZeneca was supposed to deliver 90 million doses to the EU in the first quarter. The company's latest projection is that they will deliver just 30 million through the quarter, which ends on March 31, in line with De Jonge's most recent statement on the issue.
The contract between European and AstraZeneca states that "the European Commission and member states waive any claims against AstraZeneca for delays in delivery." Experts have told NL Times and its partners that there is very little the EU can do to legally push back against the company regarding the contractual issue.
Still, Von der Leyen would not rule out any option, including blocking exports and seizing intellectual property rights, to increase vaccine doses available in Europe.
On the plus side, Pfizer/BioNTech's vaccine deliveries are going faster than planned. On Tuesday, Von der Leyen announced that the EU would get 10 million more doses of this vaccine than planned in the second quarter. Not enough to make up for the AstraZeneca setback, but better than nothing. She was optimistic about Pfizer meeting its obligations considering its performance during the first three months of the year.
She also said that Johnson and Johnson will send about 55 million doses to the EU, of which the Netherlands is entitled to at least 2.1 million of the one-shot vaccine. Unless the Dutch government purchases surplus doses from other countries, that will be short of the three million De Jonge projected. Those deliveries will start in April.
Von der Leyen also expected Moderna to fulfill its obligations, and deliver 35 million doses during the second quarter. That matches De Jonge's recent projection that the Netherlands would obtain 1.4 million vaccine doses from Moderna from April through June.
The Netherlands recently suspended the use of AstraZeneca vaccines for two weeks after concerns from Denmark and Norway that people were presenting with thrombosis after receiving the vaccine. So far all health authorities said that the vaccine is safe and that there is no evidence that it could cause blood clots. De Jonge stressed that the pause was just a precaution.