Tuesday 1/19/21
VACCINATION

EU doubles vaccine order, allows extra dose from vial

EU states are hoping that vaccinating enough of the population will ensure herd immunity, though the exact target rate differs from country to country. For example, France is aiming for 60%, and neighbouring Belgium for 70%.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a press conference. Photo: Etienne Ansotte/EU Commission/dpa.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a press conference. Photo: Etienne Ansotte/EU Commission/dpa.

The European Commission doubled its order of Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine on the same day EU regulators allowed an extra shot from each vial of the drug, two moves that could assuage critics of the EU's inoculation strategy so far.

"With the new agreement we could purchase a total of up to additional 300 million doses of the vaccine," Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Friday, taking their overall order to 600 million.

The drug with the trade name Comirnaty was the first of only two vaccines to be approved for use in the European Union so far. The bloc's inoculation drive kicked off with the jab - developed in a joint US-German venture - in late December.

The European Medicines Agency updated its guidance on the shot on Friday, allowing six rather than five doses to be eked out of each vial using a specific syringe that limits the amount of fluid sucked up.

This could represent a 20% boost in available doses at a time when supply is short, and potentially speed up inoculation.

Along with EU leaders, the Commission itself has come under heavy criticism, with citizens frustrated by the relatively slow start of the inoculation campaign for the bloc's 450 million people.

Bottlenecks

The Commission has refuted accusations that not enough doses were ordered, pointing earlier in the week instead to bottlenecks in production and delivery.

The EU has also approved US producer's Moderna's shot but is still awaiting the first of its 160 million doses to be delivered, expectedly next week.

The EU executive chief said 75 million of the freshly-secured Pfizer-BioNTech doses would be available from March, with the rest to come by the end of the year.

"Europe will have more than enough vaccines in a reliable timeframe," she stressed.

With the two approved vaccines, "we have already secured the amount of doses that we need to vaccinate 380 million Europeans," von der Leyen told reporters, more than 80% of the EU population.

Moderna's drug needs two vaccine doses four weeks apart to be effective; Pfizer-BioNTech's jab needs a second dose after three weeks.

Contracts secured

The EU Commission, which negotiates on behalf of the member states, has secured contracts providing up to 2 billion doses of potential vaccines with six producers.

The other four have not yet been green-lighted by the EMA, however.

Next week, producer AstraZeneca is expected to apply for conditional marketing authorization, EMA head Emer Cooke said on Friday. The EMA decision could come then come at the end of the month.

It is up to the member states to decide how much of each vaccine to snap up.

Europe has recorded 16 million cases of the deadly respiratory disease since the outbreak of the pandemic, and tallied up some 380,000 deaths.

EU states are hoping that vaccinating enough of the population will ensure herd immunity, though the exact target rate differs from country to country. For example, France is aiming for 60%, and neighbouring Belgium for 70%.

The goal for most is to reach this critical mass in the third quarter of the year, an enormous logistical feat requiring many thousands of shots each week.

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