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COVID-19 vaccine: BioNTech/Pfizer pledge up to 75 million extra doses to EU

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In this Jan. 12, 2021 file photo, a health care professional prepares a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Sheba Tel Hashomer Hospital in Ramat Gan, Israel.
In this Jan. 12, 2021 file photo, a health care professional prepares a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Sheba Tel Hashomer Hospital in Ramat Gan, Israel.   -   Copyright  Oded Balilty/AP
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BioNTech will provide up to 75 million more vaccine doses to the EU in the second quarter of 2021, chief financial officer Sierk Poetting has said.

The chief of the German laboratory on Monday announced it would accelerate deliveries of the coronavirus vaccine it developed with the American firm Pfizer to the bloc.

The two partners intend to "increase deliveries from the week beginning February 15" and supply "the number of doses we committed to in the first quarter" as well as "up to 75 million additional doses to the European Union in the second quarter" under existing contracts, Poetting said in a statement.

The additional 75 million vaccines to be delivered in the second quarter will bring the total number of Pfizer/BioNTech doses supplied to the EU in 2021 to 600 million, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter.

"We are working with pharmaceutical companies to ensure vaccines are delivered to Europeans," she also wrote.

The EU's vaccine programme has come under fire for its slow roll-out which was compounded by successive announcements last month Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca that deliveries to the EU27 would be temporarily reduced due to production issues.

Vaccination rates in the bloc are well below the likes of neighbouring Britain, as well as countries like Israel and the US.

Pfizer and BioNTech said however in a statement on Monday that "the modification of production processes at Pfizer's facility in Puurs, Belgium, has been successfully completed."

"Second, BioNTech's manufacturing site in Marburg (Germany) has received a manufacturing license and will be able to start production for validation by EMA in February," it also said, adding that it is in talks with other partners to strengthen its production capabilities.

The two companies now plan to produce 2 billion doses in 2021, up from a previous estimate of 1.3 billion.

The EU was embroiled in a row with AstraZeneca last week after it said the British–Swedish pharmaceutical multinational was breaking its contract with the bloc by not fulfilling the doses it had promised and said they would take legal action if needed.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said that they had only said they would make their "best effort" and said the EU had been slow to sign a contract. The EU signed a contract with the company in August 2020.

Belgian authorities even inspected the company's factory after several crisis meetings failed to resolve the issue.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Sunday that AstraZeneca will supply the EU with nine million additional doses of its coronavirus vaccine.

She said it was a "step forward on vaccines" and that "the company will also expand its manufacturing capacity in Europe" after a row with AstraZeneca escalated over the past week.

Her announcement about the additional doses came after she met with representatives from six pharmaceutical companies via videoconference on Sunday.