Spain will receive only 56% Pfizer vaccines next week
To increase dose production, adjustments need to be made in their Belgian manufacturing plant
Barcelona / LondonFirst obstacles to supply of Pfizer vaccines for Europe. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) said Friday that countries on the continent will receive fewer vaccines than expected starting next week, which may further complicate the slow deployment of immunisations. Hours after the news was made public, the same company has confirmed to the Spanish government that Spain will receive only 56% of the doses scheduled for next week (67% if we take into account that six doses come out of each vial). This means around 196,000 vaccines.
The Ministry of Health, who was "surprised" and "upset" with the news, is confident that it is a brief reduction which only affects the shipment of next week. Pfizer has only said so far that it is a temporary reduction that will affect the entire EU while it reorganizes production to increase its capacity this year from the current 1,300 million to 2,000 million doses.
The news, however, does not come as a surprise. Pfizer already announced earlier this year that while it was working towards achieving a larger production capacity than initially planned for 2021, the process would have to be altered and improvements made to the plant in Puurs, Belgium. These circumstances required additional regulatory approvals.
"Fair" allocation between communities
Faced with the certainty of a smaller order for at least a week, the Ministry of Health has announced to the autonomous communities that it will make an "equitable" distribution of the doses and that will also take into account the vaccination rates of each territory. The objective, he said, is to be able to guarantee sufficient doses so that at least the second doses are administered to those who have already received the first Pfizer vaccine 21 days ago on Monday.
The ministry has not yet detailed how many vaccines will arrive in Catalonia. Since the campaign has started, some 60,000 weekly doses have arrived, a part of which -18,000- are kept as stock that may eventually serve to cover the expected reduction in arrivals.
"Although this will temporarily affect shipments from late January to early February, it will lead to a significant increase in the doses available in late February and March", Pfizer said in a statement.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, referred to this in a brief appearance earlier this afternoon: "I received, like many of you, the news today that Pfizer was announcing delays and I immediately called the CEO and he explained that it is a production delay in the next few weeks. But he confirmed that all guaranteed first quarter doses will be delivered in the first quarter. He is personally on top of it, to reduce the period of delays, to make sure they will be caught up as soon as possible.
The result, however, is that there may be fluctuations in both the delivery of orders and the departure of shipments from Puurs' facility in the coming days and weeks. And the systematic arrival of shipments is key to maintaining a schedule that was perhaps too optimistic to begin with.
UK supply, which comes from the same plant, will also be disrupted, Pfizer said. Norway, meanwhile, will receive 36,075 doses next week instead of the 43,875 it expected. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health has reported that it is not known how long it would take for Pfizer to return to the increased maximum capacity.
The Scandinavian country, like other European countries, has kept a stock of doses in case there were problems with deliveries, a tactic, for example, that has been used in the Basque Country, where they have reserved half of the stock received to inoculate the second dose for those who have already received the first. In the case of Catalonia, however, the strategic reserve in the face of possible interruptions in supply is somewhat smaller. Since distribution began, every Monday 60,000 doses have been received, of which 18,000 are stored, Gemma Garrido Granger reports from Barcelona.
If Pfizer's supply falls, the pressure to get the EMA (European Medicines Agency) to approve the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which is due to take place on the 29th, will increase throughout the European Union. The European Commission signed a first contract with Pfizer last year for 300 million doses and has recently extended it to 300 million more.