Covid: Pfizer says EU export demands are damaging output

World Health Organisation criticises the bloc’s ‘unacceptably slow’ vaccine campaign

epa09108665 A woman receives a shot with BioNTech, Fosun Pharma, Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine Comirnaty at Molinette hospital in Turin, Italy, 31 March 2021.  EPA/ALESSANDRO DI MARCO
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Pfizer told the European Union that export controls are a burden on its vaccine output and are causing uncertainty in the supply chain.

The announcement came as the World Health Organisation said Europe's vaccination efforts were "unacceptably slow" and told of a worrying increase in coronavirus infections on the continent.

Pfizer supplies more than 70 countries from its plant in Belgium and said export regulations introduced in February were hampering global supply.

Under the rules, the drug maker has to notify the Belgian government of all its planned exports, and the European Commission must approve this request.

A nurse fills a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE Covid-19 vaccine in Goyang, South Korea, on Thursday, April 1, 2021. Uncertainty for the economy outlook remains high as coronavirus variants continue to spread in Korea and abroad. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg
A nurse fills a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. Bloomberg.

"It has caused a significant administrative burden and some uncertainty," Danny Hendrikse, Pfizer's vice-president of global supply, told The Times. "Ultimately what we would like our colleagues to do is to focus on making and distributing the vaccine."

The WHO on Thursday criticised Europe for its sluggish vaccination programme, which trails well behind those of the UK and the US.

One in 10 people in the bloc have received a single dose, while just 4 per cent have been given two.

“Vaccines present our best way out of this pandemic, however, the distribution of these vaccines is unacceptably slow," said Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO's regional director for Europe.

"We must speed up the process by ramping up manufacturing, reducing barriers to administering vaccines, and using every single vial we have in stock now.”

He said that Europe's virus situation was "more worrying than we have seen in several months".

Last week, increased transmission of Covid-19 was recorded in the majority of countries on the continent, with 1.6 million new cases and nearly 24,000 deaths.

The WHO said cases were rising in every age group, except in people aged 80 and older.

Europe is the second most affected by coronavirus of all the world's regions, with its number of deaths approaching one million and the total number of cases set to surpass 45 million.

Five countries that turned away Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid-19 doses in favour of a cheaper version from AstraZeneca are paying the price, an EU document seen by Bloomberg said.

Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia and Slovakia are among the slowest in the bloc to administer vaccines. While Pfizer is meeting its commitments, AstraZeneca has delivered just 30 million of the 120 million doses initially promised in the first quarter.

As a result, Bulgaria and Croatia are expected to vaccinate 45 per cent of their populations by the middle of the year, the document said, the lowest rate in the EU after the Czech Republic. That compares to 61 per cent in Germany, 80 per cent in Denmark and 93 per cent in Malta.

The head of the European Medicines Agency said on Wednesday that there was “no evidence” to support limiting the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford coronavirus vaccine, as Germany did after new concerns over blood clots.

But EMA executive director Emer Cooke said the Amsterdam-based agency continued to study reports of new cases and would provide a further assessment next week.

“According to the current scientific knowledge, there is no evidence that would support restricting the use of this vaccine in any population,” Ms Cooke said.

The agency’s assessment was based on 62 cases of unusual blood clots worldwide, including 14 deaths, reported to the EMA by March 22. Those figures included a “significant number” of cases reported from Germany, she said.