AstraZeneca will now supply an additional nine million COVID vaccine doses to the EU by March as the European Commission reiterated support for the establishment of a new Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA).
The news following a tense stand-off in recent days, and comes after the European Commission was roundly criticised for a threat to put checks on the Northern Ireland border to prevent vaccines produced in the EU from reaching the UK.
Doing so would have been a breach of the Good Friday Agreement as it would have effectively re-established a hard border between the North of Ireland and the Republic.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (above) said on Sunday – after a virtual meeting with the CEOs of vaccine producers including AstraZeneca – that the company will now send a total of 40 million doses in the first quarter of the year and start deliveries one week earlier than scheduled.
It will also expand its manufacturing capacity in Europe.
In a tweet, Ms von der Leyen said AstraZeneca would “deliver 9 million additional doses in the first quarter (40 million in total) compared to last week’s offer & will start deliveries one week earlier than scheduled”.
She said this represented a 30% increase on the previous amount.
Ireland is also to receive another 100,000 doses as a result, according to broadcaster RTE.
The EU signed a deal in August for 300 million AstraZeneca doses, with an option for 100 million more.
It was hoped 80 million would be delivered in the first quarter of 2021 – although other sources had put the figure at 100 million – but AstraZeneca said there were production problems at its Dutch and Belgian plants.
All three companies whose vaccines have now been approved in the EU — BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna and, since Friday, AstraZeneca — had signalled that they cannot fully meet original delivery schedules.
Von der Leyen’s meeting on Sunday included the CEOs of the pharmaceutical companies with which Brussels has signed advance-purchase agreements for vaccines: BionNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Curevac and Sanofi.
“The discussion [with CEOs] explored requirements for very rapid development, manufacturing and regulatory approval of vaccines for COVID-19 variants in the EU,” the Commission said, adding: “It was a very constructive meeting, with numerous practical suggestions.”
After the meeting, the Commission also reiterated plans to create a new agency to help speed up vaccine development and better respond to future pandemics.
The Commission said in a statement the new EU Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) will “deliver a more structured approach to pandemic preparedness,” with the aim of better anticipating threats and how to respond to them, as well as developing vaccines more rapidly.