EU Commission expresses ‘deep dissatisfaction’ as AstraZaneca announce significant vaccine delay

The shortfall comes as European leaders face heightened scrutiny over what critics say has been a slower rollout of several Western-developed vaccines than in the U.S. and U.K. It also comes after European officials clashed this week with Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE over the companies' decision to cut their own planned deliveries of Covid-19 vaccines to the bloc.

The drug firm had been set to deliver about 80 million doses to the 27 nations by March, according to the official who spoke to Reuters.

AstraZeneca has warned European Union countries it will cut deliveries of its Covid-19 vaccine by 60 per cent to 31 million doses in the first quarter of the year due to production problems.

The company confirmed the drop in deliveries without giving specific details on the magnitude of the shortfall.

A statement from AstraZeneca said: "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".

Reports now suggest that the delay is down to problems at a vaccine factory in Belgium that is working in partnership with the company. Novasep was not immediately available to comment.

Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for health and food safety, said both the Commission and member states had expressed "deep dissatisfaction" with the move at a vaccines committee meeting.

Authorities in Germany's most populous state said that due to delays in delivery of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine they would halt first vaccinations.

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"We are determined to provide more predictability and stability to the delivery process, and we look forward to more vaccines and more doses coming on stream soon", Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said on Thursday.

Regulators in Britain and several other countries have already given the vaccine the green light.

"I'm sure there are many countries now, including Ireland, who are now looking at those plans and potentially having to change them because they're going to get probably less than half the vaccines that they'd expected only a couple of weeks ago".

The firm said previous year it had agreed with the European Commission to supply up to 400 million doses.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is considered key to the global vaccination effort because it is cheaper to produce and can be stored at fridge temperature.

If approved, it will be the third COVID-19 jab to be made available to European Union citizens, after the BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

As for Pfizer, the United States firm said it had to cut shipments for the next few weeks while it worked to increase capacity at its Belgian processing plant. The aim is to inoculate 70 percent of adults by the end of August.

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