EU Covid-19 vaccination plan nears crisis point after several regions suspended inoculations faced with the shortage of vaccines and Brussels has decided to restrict exports of vaccines to conserve stocks.
The independent commission advising the German government on vaccination policy has recommended that the Oxford / AstraZeneca jab not to be used for people over 65 years old, a movement that puts pressure on the block’s vaccination effort.
Meanwhile, authorities in Paris and Lisbon have stopped or delayed the administration of the first Covid-19 injections due to shortages. The Paris region and two other regions representing about a third of the French population have postponed new vaccinations for up to four weeks in order to conserve the doses for those entitled to the second and last injection of the BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine.
Facing similar shortages, Portugal has said its vaccination campaign will be delayed for up to two months. The country is following the Madrid region, which warned on Wednesday it would suspend its campaign for 10 days.
Brussels is trying to regain control of the push amid a growing dispute with AstraZeneca over supply issues.
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, wrote to leaders of four member states calling on the bloc to explore the use of new legal powers and “enforcement measures” to speed up vaccine production in the EU. The bloc’s failing vaccination campaign comes as the inoculations take place at the pace in other countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom.
The EU will propose on Friday to allow governments to block vaccine exports, forcing pharmaceutical companies to seek clearance before shipping vital jabs out of the bloc.
The anger of EU member states is particularly focused on AstraZeneca, which is awaiting approval for its vaccine in the EU, but reported large production deficits last Friday.
An EU official said this week that the pharmaceutical company now plans to deliver just a quarter of the doses of 100 million or more previously planned in the first three months. Commission and EU capitals ask questions about UK shipments of vaccine produced by AstraZeneca within the EU.
New EU rules on jab exports could affect supplies of the first three western-made vaccines to hit the market, as all of them have manufacturing operations in the EU. BioNTech / Pfizer supplies the entire world except the United States from its Belgian factory, while Moderna produces its supply of non-American vaccines in Switzerland but fills and completes the vials in Spain.
AstraZeneca produces jabs in Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as the UK. He encountered problems in Germany, where the Standing Committee on Vaccines in Robert Koch InstituteGermany’s leading public health agency said there was “currently not enough data available to determine the effectiveness of vaccination above age 65”.
The agency recommended that the jab be used only on people between the ages of 18 and 64. AstraZeneca rejected the recommendation.
The EMA is expected to vote on approval of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine for use in the EU on Friday.
Reporting by Jim Brunsden, Sam Fleming and Michael Peel in Brussels, Leila Abboud in Paris, Guy Chazan in Berlin and Donato Paolo Mancini in Rome