EU to get an extra 50 million COVID vaccines by the end of June

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By Alice Tidey
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, March 25, 2021.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, March 25, 2021.   -  Copyright  Aris Oikonomou, Pool Photo via AP

The EU will get an extra 50 million COVID vaccines from Pfizer by the end of June, Ursula von der Leyen has announced.

The European Commission chief said the total doses EU countries will receive from Pfizer will now be 250 million in the second quarter of this year.

"This will substantially help consolidate the roll-out of our vaccination campaigns. I want to thank BioNTech-Pfizer," she told reporters from Brussels.

"It has proven to be a reliable partner. It has delivered on its commitments, and it is responsive to our needs."

Pfizer had previously committed to delivering 500 million doses of its vaccine before the end of the year.

Von der Leyen also announced that more than 100 million doses of the vaccines have been administered across the 27-country bloc.

"This is a milestone that we can be proud of. Of these 100 million vaccinations, more than a quarter are second doses — which means that we have now more than 27 million people, fully vaccinated," she added.

In addition to Pfizer, The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has approved the use of the vaccines developed by Moderna, AstraZeneca/Oxford University and Johnson & Johnson.

Moderna is expected to deliver 360 million doses this year while the bloc has bought 200 million doses of the single-shot Johson & Johnson vaccine, also known as Janssen.

But the roll-out of the AstraZeneca and Janssen shots have been hampered by delays.

The Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical failed to deliver its contracted doses in the first quarter and has already warned it will do so again in the second quarter. Member states have also restricted its use to certain age groups after regulators in the EU and the UK warned of a "possible link" between its use and rare blood clots.

Both stressed however that they continue to believe the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine continue to outweigh the risks but Denmark became the first member state on Wednesday to abandon its use.

Similar concerns over the Janssen vaccine prompted the American pharmaceutical to delay its European rollout on Tuesday, just as the first deliveries were underway after its use was temporarily suspended in the US.

The Frech government said however on Wednesday that it would start administering the Janssen jab as scheduled to people over the age of 55. Most of the blood clot events have been observed in women under the age of 60.

Von der Leyen stressed that the announcement from Johson & Johnson showed that it is "important to act swiftly, anticipate and adjust whenever possible" and that the COmmission is now entering into negotiations with Pfizer for an additional 1.8 billion doses for delivery between 2021 and 2023.

"At a certain point in time, we might need booster jabs to reinforce and prolong immunity; and if escape variants occur, we will need to develop vaccines that are adapted to new variants; and we will need them early and in sufficient quantities," she said.

She added that the negotiations will demand the production of the vaccines and of all its essential components, be based in the EU.

Brussels was harshly criticised for the slow rollout of the vaccines compared to the UK and US which have administered a first dose to 47.4 per cent and 35.6 per cent of their respective population. EU member states are meanwhile averaging at between 16 and 17 per cent, according to Our World In Data.

The European Commission has planned for 70 per cent of the bloc's adult population to be vaccinated before the end of August.