Covid-19 Vaccine Delays Are Hindering Europe’s Pandemic Recovery

Pfizer and AstraZeneca are receiving backlash from the European Union over vaccine delivery delays that are slowing down the continent’s recovery from Covid-19.

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Health officials in Europe are threatening legal action against the two vaccine makers as a means of introducing export controls on doses. AstraZeneca has already announced that it will not be able to deliver as many vaccine doses as they initially promised, according to EU officials, who are now claiming that the developers are putting the governments rollout plans at a major disadvantage.

EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides spoke with the press on Monday over this issue and expressed her extreme dissatisfaction with AstraZeneca specifically. She claimed that conversations with the developers will obviously continue, but that the drugmaker has made it clear that they “intend to supply considerably fewer doses in the coming weeks than agreed and announced.” 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen took a more passionate approach with her words to the pharmaceutical companies currently delaying the nation’s recovery. “The bloc means business. Europe invested billions to help develop the world’s first Covid-19 vaccines, to create a truly global common good, and now the companies must deliver. They must honor their obligations,” she expressed during a virtual World Economic Forum.

“European countries counting on the vaccines to rein in the health crisis and jump start their economies are now being forced to modify their plans.”

Italian Deputy Health Minister, Pierpaolo Sileri, told the media this past weekend that people over the age of 80 would now be vaccinated four weeks later than originally intended as a result of these delays from AstraZeneca and Pfizer. The country is also currently threatening legal action against both drugmakers: “By the fall we could vaccinate up to 45 million Italians, but I don’t believe in these drug companies, I want to see the vaccines.”

The European Union ordered 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is projected to be approved for distribution as soon as this week. The company recently claimed, however, that manufacturing issues have hindered this production. 

“While there is no scheduled delay to the start of shipments of our vaccine should we receive approval in Europe, initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated due to reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain. We will be supplying tens of millions of doses in February and March to the European Union, as we continue to ramp up production volumes,” AstraZeneca said in a statement. Pfizer also claimed on January 15th that it would be delivering fewer doses than planned for last week due manufacturing upgrades made at the production facilities.

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“There may be production issues, but these uncertainties and announcements make it very difficult to organize rollouts. The European Union is now demanding full transparency concerning the export of vaccines.”

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Supply chain experts are much more concerned over AstraZeneca’s delays than Pfizer’s. This is due to the fact that the upgrades Pfizer is making that are causing these delays will likely allow them to distribute up to 2 billion doses by the end of 2021; they initially believed they’d only be able to distribute 700 million. Pfizer also claimed that despite their delays they will still be able to reach their first quarter targets for distribution throughout the world. 

Burak Kazaz, a professor of supply chain management at Syracuse University recently claimed that “a delay for a week or two is not a big problem, though I certainly understand that a delay means lives are being placed at risk even further.” AstraZeneca’s production delays are likely to clear up in the coming weeks, however, as we’ve seen throughout the past year all aspects of this pandemic is unpredictable, so there are no guarantees. 

Richard Wilding is a professor of supply chain strategy at Cranfield University in England, who recently claimed that there are “at least 50 items necessary to run vaccination sites, from alcohol wipes and syringes to personal protective equipment. Supply chains for those items need to run smoothly, too. Crucially, the delays aren’t just a problem for Europe.”

He added that given all the attempts to ramp up production speed, and threats of legal action from the EU, that these companies should be able to meet with the demands that the world is presenting in the coming weeks. The past ten months have been saturated with research, trials, data, and meetings regarding these vaccines and the most effective way to get them in the arms of every citizen, now it’s just a matter of actually executing it.