A Cyprus Health Ministry official has confirmed that Pfizer-BioNTech will be temporarily reducing deliveries to Europe of its COVID-19 vaccine later this month, but that a final decision will be announced this weekend.
Asked if this is expected to affect the Cyprus inoculation programme already underway, the ministry spokesperson said an EU steering committee is currently in negotiations with Pfizer.
The next delivery of the jabs to Cyprus, arriving on Monday, have been halved from 6,825 to 3,510.
The first batch of 1,200 doses of vaccines from US pharmaceutical Moderna arrived in Cyprus on Wednesday for a total of 16,500 jabs before the end of March, and the first vaccine from AstraZeneca should arrive by mid-February.
According to a Reuters report, Pfizer announced a temporary slowdown on shipments in late January to early February caused by changes to manufacturing processes in order to boost production.
This comment came after Norway and Lithuania said the company was reducing supplies throughout Europe.
“The manufacturer told us the cuts are EU-wide,” Lithuanian health ministry spokesman Vytautas Beniusis told Reuters on Friday.
The story broke after officials in Norway told the public that they had received a message from Pfizer saying it will temporarily reduce deliveries to Europe of its COVID-19 vaccine while it upgrades production capacity.
The Associated Press quoted Geir Bukholm, director of infection control at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health saying that “we received this message today. We had predicted 43,875 vaccine doses from Pfizer in week 3. Now it seems that we get 36,075 doses”.
The reduction in deliveries will start next week and is due to Pfizer limiting output so that it can upgrade production capacity to 2 billion vaccine doses per year from the current 1.3 billion, the news agency said.
Alarmingly enough, the Norwegian authorities seem to be aware of what the reduction would mean in numbers for their vaccination programme.
“This temporary reduction will affect all European countries,” it added.
Norway is not a member of the European Union, but a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) consisting of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. The organisation operates in parallel with the European Union.
EU members complain of uneven deliveries
The development follows complaints from EU member states about uneven deliveries.
About a third of the 27 EU governments cited “insufficient” doses of vaccines at a video conference of health ministers on Wednesday, as reported by Reuters.
They also complained about uncertain timetables for future deliveries, the official added, without naming any country.
Earlier this month, Belgium said it expected to receive only half of the planned doses of the Pfizer vaccine in January due to a logistical issue.
Pfizer and BioNTech have two contracts with the EU for the supply of up to 600 million doses this year. They have agreed to deliver 75 million doses in the second quarter and more later in the year. It is unclear how many doses can be distributed in the first three months.
Based on the national vaccination plan for COVID-19, the total amount of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines available for Cyprus is 391,637 (divided into 2 doses per person) until the third quarter of 2021.
A total of 48,955 was expected to be distributed within the last four days of December and in January, according to the ministry’s action plan, which corresponds to vaccinating 24,477 people.
A health ministry announcement said the reduction will not affect the total deliveries scheduled for the first quarter.
It said that inoculations planned for next week will not be affected, nor will it impact on the 3,466 vaccination appointments to be announced on Monday for inoculation in the week of January 25-29.
It added that the second jabs for all those vaccinated from December 27 onwards have been stored and these will proceed as planned.