EU throws weight behind Pfizer-BioNTech and new technology

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers a statement after a meeting of the college of commissioners at EU headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen announced plans Wednesday for a major contract extension for COVID-19 vaccines with Pfizer stretching to 2023. (John Thys, Pool via AP)

BRUSSELS – In a stinging rebuke to pharma giant AstraZeneca Wednesday, the European Union announced plans to negotiate a massive contract extension for Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine insisting the 27-nation bloc had to go with companies that had shown their value in the pandemic.

“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.

In contrast to the oft-criticized Anglo-Swedish company, 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.”

Exacerbating the problems for AstraZeneca, Denmark decided Wednesday not to resume use of its vaccine, 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.

The Johnson & Johnson jab, which uses the same base technology as AstraZeneca, hit a snag this week when U.S. regulators recommended a “pause” in administering Johnson & Johnson shots. Deliveries in the EU have been suspended.

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.

Because of that shortfall, the EU has come under crushing pressure as, even though it it is a major producer and exporter of vaccines, it cannot get its vaccinations even close to the levels of the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Our World in Data site said 47.5% of people in the U.K. have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 36.6% in the U.S. and 16.4% in the EU.