The EU could prevent more vaccine deliveries from being shipped overseas, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, as the bloc struggles to ensure enough shots for its troubled immunization drive.
The Anglo-Swedish pharma giant AstraZeneca is still failing to meet the bloc's delivery targets, Von der Leyen told the Wirtschaftswoche business magazine on Monday.
The firm has only "delivered less than 10% of the amount ordered by the EU for the period from December to March," she said.
The European Union had expected to receive 100 million vaccines from the company by now, meaning there is a shortfall of about 90 million doses.
Italy blocked jabs
Von der Leyen's comments come after Italy asked the European Commission, the EU's executive body, to block 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from being shipped to Australia last week.
Von der Leyen said officials could use these powers again to keep jabs in the bloc.
''That was not a one-off," von der Leyen said.
European Commission sources told DW that they were unable to reveal if any other EU governments had demanded to use the new powers, citing "corporate confidentiality."
Calls to AstraZeneca's UK offices seeking comment went unanswered.
EU officials drew up the new laws in January, forcing pharma companies to seek approval from the EU before shipping vaccines manufactured in their countries overseas.
The new powers were created at the height of a row between the EU and AstraZeneca. Previously, the company said an initial delivery of vaccines to the EU would fall short.
EU sees more deliveries on the way
Von der Leyen said she expected the bloc to receive 100 million doses of coronavirus vaccines every month from April. The much-needed boost would come due to higher delivery volumes and "because more vaccines are about to be approved," she told the Stuttgarter Nachrichten newspaper.
The 27-nation bloc, with a population of 446 million people, has received 51.5 million doses of vaccines as of 26 February, according to official data posted on the EU's website.
Italy changes course on AstraZeneca
The EU has already approved three vaccines — BioNTech-Pfizer, AstraZeneca-Oxford and Moderna — but the inoculation campaign has been hit by delays because of production bottlenecks.
Additionally, public health experts in the EU questioned the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine for the elderly. On Monday, Italy lifted a limitation on the vaccine's use, saying it could be used on everyone except "extremely vulnerable" people.
"Scientific evidence that has become available indicates that, even in people aged over 65, the vaccine is capable of providing significant protection," the Italian Health Ministry said.
The decision move follows similar U-turns by French, German and Belgian health authorities, who initially cited a lack of data in the initial clinical trials.
jf/dj (AFP, Reuters)