Europeans Clash With Pfizer, BioNTech Over Covid-19 Vaccine Deliveries
By Bojan Pancevski and Giovanni Legorano
Tension is rising between European authorities and Pfizer Inc.
and BioNTech SE after officials said the companies had unexpectedly
cut their deliveries of Covid-19 vaccines and put their
immunization schedules at risk.
The Italian government asked the country's attorney general to
study whether it can take legal action after Pfizer cut deliveries
of its vaccine for this week by 29% as it retools its Belgium
factory, a government spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Separately, the German state of Hamburg said Pfizer had
delivered fewer vials of vaccine to the city than expected this
In Europe, Pfizer and BioNTech initially shipped vials of
five-vaccine doses, but because of a precautionary practice known
as overfilling, the vials contained enough extra liquid for a sixth
dose. After the European Union's drugs agency ruled on Jan. 8 that
six doses could be obtained from a vial, the companies cut the
number of vials delivered, arguing that their contract was for a
certain amount of doses, not vials. The companies have said they
were on schedule to deliver the number of doses they had
A Hamburg government spokeswoman said the state has struggled to
extract the sixth dose as special syringes are required and
authorities haven't been able to purchase them in sufficient
quantities. This has left their mobile vaccination teams that
inoculate care homes unable to use the full amount of vaccine, she
Hamburg authorities said their vaccination plans relied on
obtaining 10% more doses than the state will be able to extract
from the vials because of the relabeling of five-dose vials into
"Six vials used to be delivered for 30 vaccine doses until now,
but now there are only five," said Hamburg State Health Minister
Melanie Leonhard in an emailed statement. "The amounts [of vaccine]
that were supposed to be delivered have been reduced."
Pfizer in a statement didn't specifically address the situations
in Hamburg or Italy, but said it planned to fulfill its supply
vaccine to countries in line with its agreements with governments
and as permitted by regulatory authorities.
The company said its agreements were always based on delivery of
doses, not vials. Pfizer and BioNTech raised their manufacturing
target for this year to two billion doses in part because of the
revised six-dose-per-vial label, the company said.
A spokeswoman for BioNTech declined to comment on the Italian
government's allegations and said vaccine sales contracts were for
doses, not vials.
Pfizer said last week that Europe would suffer a temporary
shortfall in deliveries that would be offset later because of
production upgrades at its Belgian factory.
The Italian government said that Pfizer first informed it of a
drop in deliveries on Friday and that the company then told the
government on Tuesday that there would be an additional cut next
"The government is worried and alarmed," the government
spokeswoman said. "It deplores the company's behavior."
Pfizer unilaterally decided to cut the deliveries to some
Italian regions more than others, according to Italian authorities,
prompting many local administrations to complain that they were
struggling to secure enough doses for the second injection, which
is needed for the best immunity against the virus.
The regions that suffered smaller cuts are donating some of
their doses to the most affected regions so that they can complete
the second round of inoculations, the government spokeswoman
Other EU countries are also affected by the cuts, but none have
so far said they would take legal action. A spokesman for Germany's
Health Ministry said there was no legal remedy against reduced
deliveries. Health Minister Jens Spahn said Wednesday that he was
frustrated at Pfizer's sudden announcement last week about
disruptions at its European plant.
"The problem is above all how short-notice Pfizer's announcement
has been, and that is annoying," Mr. Spahn told journalists. "I
understand the reasons, they have to scale up...it is good that
they are expanding their capacities but it is very, very
displeasing that they announced it overnight."
Separately, a German government spokesman said some states
besides Hamburg were also missing the special syringes needed to
extract the sixth dose from the relabeled vials. But he added that
there was no legal recourse against the companies as the EU itself
had declared that a vial now contains six doses.
Pfizer markets the vaccine together with their German partner,
BioNTech SE. The EU has so far ordered 300 million doses from
Pfizer and BioNTech, and negotiations are continuing for another
200 million shots.
--Jared Hopkins contributed to this article.
Write to Bojan Pancevski at email@example.com and Giovanni
Legorano at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 20, 2021 17:59 ET (22:59 GMT)
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