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Italy Blames Pfizer Delays as Vaccinations Slow to a Crawl

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 1/22/2021 Flavia Rotondi

(Bloomberg) -- Italy’s coronavirus vaccination campaign could come to a near standstill next week amid rising anger across Europe over a slowdown in vaccine deliveries.

“We received 29% fewer doses this week, and there will be a further 20% decline next week” from Pfizer Inc. and its partner BioNTech SE, the country’s virus emergency czar Domenico Arcuri said in a press conference on Thursday. Since Saturday the pace of vaccinations has slowed to 28,000 a day from about 80,000, with shots halted altogether in some areas like Rome and the surrounding Lazio region.

The slowdown makes it even more difficult for European countries, already lagging behind the U.S. and the U.K. in the race to vaccinate citizens, to step up the pace of inoculations. Italy, which aims to vaccinate the whole population by this fall, is already delaying the next step in its campaign, which involves giving shots to those over 80. So far, Italy has vaccinated 1.3 million people, or 2.1% of the population.

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Even more ambitious targets in other European countries may also be at risk. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday promised that all Germans who want a shot will get one by Sept. 21. In Denmark, authorities aim to vaccinate everyone who wants a shot by June 27.

Italy has threatened legal action against Pfizer after talks with the company “did not produced the desired results,” Arcuri said in a Jan. 19 statement. The company’s reassurances that the pace of deliveries will pick up again so far have failed to convince, he said on Thursday.

“The delivery of vaccines must proceed in compliance with commitments”, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on twitter. “Protection of our citizens’ health remains at the heart of the coordinated action of the EU Governments and Commission to defeat COVID”.

Denmark this week also criticized Pfizer for slowing the pace of vaccine deliveries, citing a disagreement about the contractual details involving procurement of a sixth dose out of each vaccine vial. Vials had originally been labeled for five doses, though after health-care providers proved adept at squeezing a sixth dose out of each vial, the official label was changed. Pfizer has said it will ship based on numbers of doses, not vials, which would mean fewer vials of vaccine being shipped to supply the same number of doses.

Separately, Pfizer on Jan. 15 said it would cut deliveries from its factory in Puurs, Belgium due to renovations. The updates are planned to boost capacity starting next month. The factory supplies countries outside the U.S.

Vaccines from additional producers will be necessary in order to achieve a European Union target of 70% vaccination by summer, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said ahead of an EU leaders summit on Thursday. “Otherwise, at the current pace of production and logistics, we can only immunize 25% to 30% by summer,” Nauseda said. “That’s clearly not enough.”

(Adds Conte’s comment in sixth paragraph)

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