Pfizer has announced a temporary reduction in deliveries so that it can expand its factory in Belgium.
Frustration is mounting from Europe to North America over reduced shipments of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine as the US pharmaceutical company increases production capacity at its Belgian plant.
Governments say it costs critical time during the early stages of deployment to nursing homes and hospital staff.
Italy has threatened legal action, the head of Canada’s most populous province has said Pfizer’s chief executive should be prosecuted “with a firecracker” and a senior European Union official has coldly invoked the principle of “Pacta sunt servanda”, a Latin phrase meaning “agreements must be kept”.
The EU and many other countries are under pressure for what is seen as a slow start to their vaccination campaigns compared to countries like Israel and the UK.
Pfizer compounded the problem last Friday by announcing a temporary reduction in deliveries so it could upgrade its plant in Puurs, Belgium, which supplies all shots delivered outside of the United States.
The delay, which the pharmaceutical giant says would last a few weeks, not only affects the number of people who can get vaccinated during that time, but also rejects the painstaking choreography that governments have set for elderly residents and caregivers to receive. the two doses required. a strict schedule of several weeks.
“This means huge complications for us,” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said.
“We were all surprised by the announcement of a delay from Pfizer-BioNTech,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
The EU now expects Pfizer to deliver across the 27-nation bloc 92% of what was expected this week and next. The missing 8 percent is expected to be recovered during the week of February 15.
A number of states in the United States are also reporting difficulties in obtaining enough vaccines.
In Europe, Pfizer’s harsh criticism stands in stark contrast to the accolades the company received last month for its exceptional speed in producing a COVID-19 vaccine deemed safe and effective.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was the first vaccine authorized in the UK, EU and US.
Pfizer told the Associated Press on Wednesday that any small step back now would translate into a huge leap forward later in the year. The company initially planned to produce 1.3 billion doses this year.
“We have explored innovative ways to increase the number of doses that we are able to deliver this year, and now we believe that we can potentially deliver around two billion doses by the end of 2021,” said the company in a press release.
But even if this point is understood, many European officials have said they are disappointed with what they see as a lack of fluid communication.
“The problem lies mainly with the short-term announcement from Pfizer,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said. “It is an overwhelming problem.
“I understand the reason why [plants] need to be converted in the short term to increase capacity in the medium and long term. But it is very unsatisfying that this was… communicated to us overnight.