AstraZeneca has slashed the number of Covid-19 shots it will deliver to EU nations this week by almost half, causing a hold-up that the company claimed would be temporary and was because of delayed testing of a batch of vaccines.
The company now expects to deliver 1.3m doses to the EU’s 27 member states, plus Iceland and Norway, down from the 2.6m forecast it made in mid-March, according to documents seen by the Financial Times.
The cut is equivalent to a reduction of 49 per cent and is evenly distributed across countries, according to the documents.
AstraZeneca said it told the European Commission and member states last week that the batch required testing and would be delivered soon. It said it would still meet its target to deliver 70m doses in the second quarter.
“Weekly deliveries typically show small fluctuations depending on a number of operational factors, such as distribution or completion of quality and safety testing,” the company said.
The latest delay has caused frustration as it comes after the company had dramatically revised down its forecasts for EU deliveries in recent months, delivering about a quarter of maximum targeted supplies in the first quarter and more than halving projections for the second.
Any AstraZeneca vaccine shortfalls would be a fresh blow to the EU’s vaccination campaign — which has lagged behind those in the UK, US and Israel — although the jab is less important to the bloc’s rollout for the second quarter of the year than it was for the first.
The supply changes have hampered the EU’s rollout, which has also been slowed by changing guidance on who should take the vaccine after concerns about a rare blood clotting side effect emerged. They have also led to tensions between the EU and the UK over potential export bans.
A person familiar with the interactions between the drugmaker and member states said there would be “practically no deliveries this week”.
“And the same will happen next week,” the person said. “This is happening all the time.”
European leaders are no longer hiding their displeasure with the company. Italian prime minister Mario Draghi told reporters on Thursday that there had been “failures from certain companies, in particular AstraZeneca”, when it came to the delivery of vaccines.
“The feeling one gets — and maybe, for pity’s sake, that’s wrong — is that these doses have been sold two, or three times,” Draghi said, adding that the supply contracts had not been respected.
He said these “failures” were “sudden, unexpected, unexplained”.
The person said this week’s cut in deliveries came at very short notice and that AstraZeneca has told member states that the supply issues mainly stemmed from yield problems at its plants, with manufacturing runs not producing enough drug substance to be put into vials.
AstraZeneca has previously pointed to this issue as one of the reasons behind its shortfalls. But in this instance, the company said it was incorrect to say it was due to problems with drug substance manufacturing, which happens much earlier in production.
The delay in Europe came as the US reported there would be a drop in Johnson & Johnson doses next week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there would be an 86 per cent fall, following production problems at a manufacturing plant in Baltimore, where 15m doses were ruined.
A total of 4,947,500 J&J doses were allocated in the week beginning April 5, while only 700,000 will be given out from April 12.
The European Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Additional reporting by Nikou Asgari in London