COPENHAGEN – U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer confirmed Friday it will temporarily reduce deliveries to Europe of its COVID-19 vaccine while it upgrades production capacity to 2 billion doses per year.
The EU Commission chief said she'd immediately called Pfizer's CEO. But in an indication the issue might go beyond Europe, Canada's government said it was also affected.
Line Fedders, a spokeswoman for Pfizer Denmark, said that to meet the new 2 billion dose target Pfizer is upscaling production at its plant in Puurs, Belgium, which “presupposes adaptation of facilities and processes at the factory which requires new quality tests and approvals from the authorities.”
“As a consequence, fewer doses will be available for European countries at the end of January and the beginning of February,” she said.
“This temporary reduction will affect all European countries,” she said in a statement to The Associated Press.
Germany’s Health Ministry said Friday Pfizer had informed the European Commission, which was responsible for ordering vaccines from the company, that it won’t be able to fulfill all of the promised deliveries in the coming three to four weeks.
The ministry said German officials took note of the unexpected announcement by the Commission "with regret” because the company had made binding delivery commitments by mid-February.
“The federal and state governments expect the EU Commission to provide clarity and certainty as soon as possible in negotiations with Pfizer about further deliveries and delivery dates,” the statement said.
The Commission sealed the vaccine deals on behalf of all 27 member states, but is not responsible for the timetable and deliveries.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she had “immediately called the CEO of Pfizer.”
“He reassured me that all guaranteed doses of the first quarter will be delivered in the first quarter. He is personally on the case on reducing the delay period and to make sure that they will catch up as soon as possible,” von der Leyen said.
Earlier Friday Commission health policy spokesman Stefan de Keersmaecker said deliveries are made on the basis of purchase orders and specific contracts that are concluded between the member states and the companies.
"The specificities of these arrangements are laid down in these purchase orders or contracts,” he said.
The Commission has secured up to 600 million extra doses of the Pfizer vaccine that's produced in partnership with Germany's BioNTech.
Pfizer’s Belgian plant supplies all shots delivered outside the United States, including Canada where procurement minister Anita Anand said Friday that the U.S. drug-maker is temporarily reducing deliveries because of issues with its European production lines. While the company said it still was able to deliver four million doses by the end of March, that is no longer guaranteed, she said.
Canadian officials said the reduction means Canada’s vaccine shipments will be cut in half for the next month.
The country has received just 380,000 doses of the vaccine so far and was supposed to get another 400,000 this month, and is expecting almost two million doses in February.
Norwegian authorities also said Friday they had been notified by Pfizer about the reduction that will start next week as the company raises its annual dose target from the current 1.3 billion.
“We had predicted 43,875 vaccine doses from Pfizer in week 3. Now it seems that we get 36,075 doses,” said Geir Bukholm, director of infection control at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
”The stock we now have will be able to compensate for a reduction in the planned deliveries for a few weeks ahead if there is a need for this,” he said.
In Finland, broadcaster YLE said the delay would cause domestic delivery problems at the end of January and the beginning of February.
Danish officials expressed concern.
“We are in a race with coronavirus and the new more contagious virus variant," Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said. "Therefore, we take the decline in deliveries very seriously.”
Henrik Ullum, head of Statens Serum Institut, a government agency that maps the spread of the coronavirus in Denmark, said he expected the development to mean that "in the coming time we can vaccinate fewer than first assumed.”
Samuel Petrequin and Raf Casert in Brussels, Frank Jordans in Berlin and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed.