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KT edit: Beginning of vaccine wars in Europe?

Pfizer announced that it would reduce half the volume of the novel coronavirus vaccines it was slated to deliver to some countries in the European Union (EU).

Published: Sun 24 Jan 2021, 11:02 PM

For months, public health experts have been anticipating ‘vaccine wars’ and contending that rich countries were likely to receive them first, which put the Third World in a vulnerable spot. Less than two months after the first coronavirus vaccine was authorised for use, the chaos is apparent as manufacturers find themselves tackling glitches in mass production, which is halting timely deliveries in Europe.

Recently, Pfizer announced that it would reduce half the volume of the novel coronavirus vaccines it was slated to deliver to some countries in the European Union (EU). While the manufacturer and its German collaborator BioNTech have refused to comment on the reasons behind the slash, AstraZeneca, which has also developed a vaccine in collaboration with University of Oxford, has warned that its initial supplies to EU will be lesser than what’d been anticipated. While it has not yet authorised the vaccines made by AstraZeneca, the EU is likely to take a call on January 29.

So, what does AstraZeneca’s announcement mean for the EU? To give a perspective, here are the numbers. Italy, which was one of the worst affected countries last year, will receive 3.4 million doses instead of eight million. Austria will receive only 650,000 vaccines. Belgium, which had contracted AstraZeneca for 1.5 million doses, stands to receive 650,000 only. Sweden, which had expected a million vaccines, may just end up with 700,000 vaccines.

If this is a cause of concern, it is because the public health crisis has put the European economy to a standstill, while claiming many lives. Thus far, 29 million cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported with over 664,815 deaths. The announcements of shortage of supply are also coming at a time when a new variant of the virus, that is also more contagious, is posing a new challenge.

The EU is not taking matters lightly; many ministers have already spoken out against Pfizer’s delay, while expressing “deep disappointment” over AstraZeneca’s announcement recently. So far, Pfizer says it is committed to increasing the production of vaccines while developing capabilities in its Belgian plant to ramp up production. But in such a scenario, states might have to come up with strategies to address shortage of supplies.

Earlier in the UK, the second round of inoculation of Pfizer vaccines had been delayed, a decision that met due criticism from several quarters, as the country set out to inoculate as many people as it could for the first jab, thereby offering minimal immunity to maximum number of people. Are these unconventional methods going to save the day for the EU too? Perhaps it’s too soon to tell. But instead of threatening legal action against the manufacturers, it’d help if states were to come together to support the mass production of vaccines.

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