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EU faces setback in fight versus Covid-19 as vaccines run short

Shortage of vaccine doses in Europe

The Covid-19 vaccination campaign in Europe has run into a major crisis due to a shortage of doses, with Spain even being forced to partly suspend its inoculation drive.

The setback comes amid a raging dispute with UK pharma giant AstraZeneca which has reduced deliveries of its vaccine to the European Union by 60 percent because of production shortfalls.

The European Union had started its immunization campaign with the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine in December  on the close heels of the United States and Britain. However, now although the EU has enough cash to buy even the expensive vaccines it has fallen behind these two countries as the doses are in short supply. There has been a scramble for vaccines as other countries such as Israel and Canada are also looking to get enough doses for their citizens.

The EU has asked AstraZeneca to find flexible ways to deliver doses and urged it to disclose vaccine production and distribution data.

The EU had set a goal to have 70 percent of its population inoculated by this summer, but this target has now been dropped due to the vaccine shortage.

A mere 2 percent of EU citizens have till now received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according figures put out by Our World in Data compared with some 40 percent of Israelis. The figure in Britain was 11 percent while that for the US was 6 percent.

However, AstraZeneca maintains it is doing everything it can to bring its vaccine to millions of Europeans as soon as possible.

AstraZeneca appears to be facing wider supply problems. Australia’s Health Minister Greg Hunt also told reporters AstraZeneca had advised the country it had experienced “a significant supply shock”, which would cut supplies in March below what was agreed.

Similarly, Thailand’s Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said AstraZeneca would be supplying 150,000 doses instead of the 200,000 planned, and far less than the 1 million shots the country had initially requested.

Pfizer has also announced a temporary slowdown in vaccine supplies.  French pharma major Sanofi said on Wednesday that it would help produce more than 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, starting this summer, but this would be too late to accelerate vaccination plans for the first half of 2021.