AstraZeneca's EU vaccine shipments will be delayed, the EU's health commissioner said, in yet another obstacle to the bloc's COVID-19 vaccination rollout.
"The EU Commission and Member States expressed deep dissatisfaction with this," Stella Kyriakides tweeted on Friday after member states heard from AstraZeneca representatives.
The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is expected to receive approval from the European Medicines Agency this week, and any delay or shortage of doses could be a significant speed bump as member states race to vaccinate their populations amid a worsening COVID-19 crisis.
The emergence of more transmissible variants of coronavirus has caused significant concern in Europe with the UK reporting record daily hospitalisations and deaths due to the virus mutations.
Johnson warned on Friday that early evidence showed the new variant could be more deadly as well.
Countries are racing against the clock to vaccinate as many people as possible before the variants spread further.
But Pfizer said just last week that fewer doses would be available in the EU in late January and early February due to quality tests at the manufacturing plant in Belgium.
Some EU countries have since had to cut vaccinations amid the delays, prompting criticism of the pharmaceutical companies behind the vaccines.
Domenico Arcuri, Italy's coronavirus commissioner, said that vaccinations had been cut from 80,000 a day to 28,000 a day, Italian media reported. He said Italian authorities were considering taking legal action against Pfizer, AP reported.
Authorities in Germany's most populous state said that due to delays in delivery of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine they would halt first vaccinations. North Rhine Westphalia had received 100,000 vaccine doses less than originally planned, the state said.
Germany's health minister Jens Spahn said that "we are currently in a phase in which the worldwide demand for corona vaccines is very high."
Member states agreed on Thursday that vaccine deliveries should be coordinated and distributed at the same time after the bloc's most recent Steering Committee meeting, where vaccinations are discussed.
"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.
She also called for more testing and increases in sequencing amid the more transmissible mutations of the virus.
It comes as the bloc urged member states to speed up vaccinations, setting an ambitious goal to vaccinate 70% of the EU population by summer 2021. By March, the EU commission says they hope that 80% of vulnerable individuals and healthcare workers can be vaccinated.
In order to speed things along, countries have in some cases delayed second doses as much as possible and begun pulling sixth doses from a vaccine dial instead of five, in accordance with the EU regulator's recommendation.
Some EU member states secure vaccines outside of bloc
However, some EU states appeared to also go rogue recently in terms of vaccine procurement, a move EU officials said was unnecessary as the bloc had secured enough vaccines for the entire EU population.
Hungary's foreign minister said the country had procured two million doses of the Russian coronavirus vaccine.
They are the only EU country to approve the vaccine, Sputnik V, which has not been approved by the European Medicines Agency.
Foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said the vaccines will arrive in three stages, with the first doses delivered within a month.
A Commission spokesperson told Euronews prior to Hungary's announcement that "member states may have a separate negotiation if it’s about a vaccine that’s not covered by the portfolio if it’s with a company that we are not having negotiations with."
Germany's government, meanwhile, said in a statement to Euronews that it had bilateral negotiations with some pharmaceutical companies that would not impact the EU vaccine agreement.
It remains unclear, however, if vaccine doses secured bilaterally by the country would arrive before or after doses as part of EU contracts and whether those negotiations were outside the joint member state negotiations.