World|The E.U.’s vaccination campaign gets a lift from Pfizer as it promises a big switch in strategy.
The European Union will receive an extra 50 million doses this month of the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, a lift in its effort to speed up inoculations in the face of difficulties with vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
The announcement by Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, is part of the European Union’s hard pivot to mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer’s, staking its future coronavirus response on them.
The moves come a day after Johnson & Johnson suspended the rollout of its vaccine in the European Union and as the bloc continued to suffer the fallout from restrictions on the AstraZeneca vaccine, after reports of extremely rare but serious potential side effects from both.
The 27-nation bloc has also entered negotiations with Pfizer over the supply of 1.8 billion new vaccine doses — including booster shots to prolong immunity and new vaccines to tackle emerging variants — in 2022 and 2023, Ms. von der Leyen said.
In another setback for AstraZeneca, Denmark on Wednesday became the first country to permanently stop the administration of the company’s vaccine, saying the potential side effects were significant enough to do so given that it had the pandemic under control and could rely on two other vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna.
The European Union has not canceled its existing orders of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, but signaled it was not going to be placing more.
The European Medicines Agency, the bloc’s top drug regulator, continues to say that for most people the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine far outweigh the risks of a dangerous, but extremely rare, blood disorder. On Wednesday, the agency said it was expediting its investigation of “very rare cases of unusual blood clots” in recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and expected to issue a recommendation next week.
While the evaluation is ongoing, the agency reiterated its view that the benefits of that vaccine also outweigh the risks.
The European Union’s turn away from AstraZeneca follows difficult months in which relations between the company and the bloc deteriorated over delayed shipments and unpredictable supply. And since then, concerns over the possible side effects have exacerbated vaccine skepticism that was already dangerously high in Europe.
Those problems have contributed to Europe’s falling seriously behind vaccination campaigns in the United States and Britain. The bloc is hoping the new Pfizer shipments will help it begin to catch up and to meet its goal to fully vaccinate 70 percent of its adult population by the end of the summer, some 255 million people.
Pfizer’s commitment to bring forward the delivery of the 50 million doses, which were originally slated for the end of the year, means the company will deliver a total of 250 million doses to the bloc by the end of June.
“We need to focus now on technologies that have proven their worth: mRNA vaccines are a clear case in point,” Ms. von der Leyen said.
Monika Pronczuk contributed reporting.