Prime minister attacks AstraZeneca and BioNTech/Pfizer for lower than expected deliveries
Italy’s prime minister has accused AstraZeneca of a “serious contractual violation” for what he said was an unexpected reduction in the number of doses of the company’s Covid-19 vaccine that will be delivered to European Union countries. Giuseppe Conte said that he would consider “all legal steps” after senior AstraZeneca executives confirmed to Rome on Saturday that Italy would be given 3.4m doses in the first quarter instead of 8m.
Mr Conte’s anger at AstraZeneca adds to mounting tensions between EU governments and Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers over delays to expected deliveries that have already prompted Italy to threaten legal action against BioNTech/Pfizer.
“These delays in deliveries are serious contractual violations, which cause enormous damage to Italy and other European countries with direct effects on the lives and health of citizens, and on our economic and social fabric already severely tested by a year of pandemic,” Mr Conte said in a Facebook post on Saturday. European Union countries were expecting 100m doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to be delivered in the first quarter of 2020.
But the company has said that its deliveries will be lower as a result of complications at a European manufacturing site. Earlier this week AstraZeneca warned EU countries in private that they should expect significant reductions from the deliveries of the vaccine they had been expecting. On Friday the company said that there was no “scheduled delay” but that initial shipments would be lower than previously planned.
“We will be supplying tens of millions of doses in February and March to the EU, as we continue to ramp up production volumes,” the company said. Mr Conte said that his health minister and the special commissioner in charge of Italy’s pandemic response had spoken with senior AstraZeneca executives in Italy on Saturday who confirmed the reduction in deliveries in the first quarter.
“All this is unacceptable,” he said. “Our vaccine plan, approved by the Italian Parliament . . . was developed on the basis of contractual commitments freely agreed and signed by pharmaceutical companies with the European Commission”. Earlier this week Domenico Arcuri, Italy’s Covid commissioner, said Italy was expecting a 29 per cent drop in the number of BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine beyond this week. “The vaccination campaign cannot be slowed down, especially when it comes to the administration of second doses to Italians who have already received the first one,” Mr Arcuri said.
Italy has so far vaccinated 1.3m of its population as of Friday, more than Spain which has administered 1.2m doses but significantly behind the UK, which has vaccinated 5.8m people so far. In terms of vaccines administered per 100 residents Italy is ahead of Germany, Switzerland and Portugal but behind Denmark, Spain and Ireland.