EU backs Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, will not renew AstraZeneca, J&J contracts

·3-min read

The European Union has announced plans for a massive contract extension for Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine, saying the bloc had chosen to stick with companies that had shown their value during the pandemic. The EU will not renew vaccine contracts with AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson after their expiry, according to reports.

“We need to focus on technologies that have proven their worth,” said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. She also announced that America's Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech would provide the EU with an extra 50 million doses in the 2nd quarter of this year, making up for faltering deliveries of AstraZeneca.

Von der Leyen said Pfizer-BioNTech “has proven to be a reliable partner. It has delivered on its commitments, and it is responsive to our needs. This is to the immediate benefit of EU citizens.”

In a stinging rebuke to AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, the EU Commission will not renew its Covid vaccine contracts with the Anglo-Swedish and US pharma giants, Italian daily La Stampa reported, citing a source from the Italian health ministry.

“The European Commission, in agreement with the leaders of many (EU) countries, has decided that the contracts with the companies that produce (viral vector) vaccines that are valid for the current year will not be renewed at their expiry,” the newspaper reported, adding that Brussels would rather focus on RNA (mRNA) technology used by Pfizer and Moderna.

A spokesman for the EU Commission said the block was keeping all options open to be prepared for the next stages of the pandemic. "We cannot, however, comment on contractual issues," he added.

Denmark terminates AstraZeneca

Exacerbating problems for AstraZeneca, Denmark decided Wednesday not to renew its use of the jab – an EU first – after putting it on hold last month following reports of rare blood clots in some recipients. The bulk of the shots given in the Scandinavian country so far have been the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

AstraZeneca was supposed to be the workhorse of the EU's vaccine drive this year – a cheap and easy-to-transport shot to break the pandemic's back. Yet, the EU said that out of 120 million doses promised for the 1st quarter, only 30 million were delivered, and, of the 180 million expected, now there are only 70 million set for delivery in the 2nd quarter.

The J&J jab, which uses the same base technology as AstraZeneca, hit a snag this week when US regulators recommended a “pause” in administering the single-dose vaccine. Deliveries in the EU have been suspended.

'Very serious side effects'

Commenting on the AstraZeneca and J&J concerns, Member of European Parliament Peter Liese said: "The side effects are very serious and I support the decision of many member states not to vaccinate AstraZeneca to younger people for the time being.

"I hope that the side effects of Johnson & Johnson will be clarified quickly by the American FDA and that targeted recommendations can then be made for whom this vaccine can and cannot be used."

In France, Pfizer currently supplies most of the vaccines. According to the website, which monitors the latest developments regarding the pandemic, 11 million French (of a total 67 million) have received their first vaccine, while 3.8 million have had their second jab.

Over two-thirds of the 20 million doses obtained by French health services were supplied by Pfizer/BioNTech, less than a third by AstraZeneca and a small part by Moderna.

(with AP, Reuters)