News that AstraZeneca's promised COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to Europe will be delayed isn't sitting well with officials, who are pushing the company to honor the agreed-upon delivery schedule.
"Europe invested billions to help develop the world's first COVID-19 vaccines," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a video statement Tuesday. "And now, the companies must deliver. They must honor their obligations."
On Friday, AstraZeneca told the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, that it will ship fewer doses to the bloc than originally agreed upon.
Stella Kyriakides, European commissioner for health and food safety, called the news "not acceptable." She said subsequent discussions with the company provided no clear reasons for the reduction to what she called "considerably fewer doses."
Discussions with @AstraZeneca today resulted in dissatisfaction with the lack of clarity and insufficient explanations. EU Member States are united: vaccine developers have societal and contractual responsibilities they need to uphold.— Stella Kyriakides (@SKyriakidesEU) January 25, 2021
"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," an AstraZeneca spokesperson told NPR on Tuesday.
The company did not specify precisely how much smaller the initial shipments would be than previously expected. It stressed it will still "be supplying tens of millions of doses in February and March to the European Union, as we continue to ramp up production volumes."
AstraZeneca's smaller supply is an especially bitter pill for Europe since Pfizer said this month it was also facing delays — proving a disastrous start for Europe's immunization campaign for COVID-19 that started a month ago.
Kyriakides said that in the future, all companies producing COVID-19 vaccines in the EU "will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries" outside the EU. The requirement would exclude humanitarian deliveries. She added that discussions on the vaccine delivery schedule will continue Wednesday.
AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine is in the final stages of the authorization process with the European Medicines Agency, which is responsible for evaluating medicines and vaccines. Authorization for the vaccine is expected by the end of the week.
The EU has spent 2.7 billion euros (more than $3.2 billion) on supporting the rapid production of COVID-19 vaccines.