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European Union states are expected to receive 107 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of March, an EU Commission spokeswoman said today (31 March), hitting an earlier target but far below initial plans, writes Francesco Guarascio.

Under contracts signed with drugmakers, the bloc had expected to receive 120 million doses by the end of March from Anglo-Swedish firm AstraZeneca alone and tens of millions more doses from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

But after major cuts from AstraZeneca, the EU had revised down its target until the end of March to about 100 million doses.

The Commission spokeswoman told a news conference that AstraZeneca was expected to deliver 29.8 million doses by Wednesday, in line with its revised-down goal.

Pfizer-BioNTech will deliver 67.5 million doses and Moderna nearly 10 million, figures that the EU has said are in line with their initial commitments.

The EU expects a major ramp-up of deliveries in the second quarter that it says will be sufficient to inoculate at least 70% of its adult population by July, and speed up its so far slow vaccination drive.

Addressing bottlenecks

The European Commission has set up a taskforce to increase the industrial production of vaccines, under the authority of the Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, in cooperation with Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides. The Task Force has three main work streams. It will work to eliminate bottlenecks in current production, adjust vaccine production to coronavirus variants, and it will work on a structural plan for a faster response to biohazards at the European level.

On 29 March 2021, the Commission hosted the first pan-European matchmaking event with over 300 participating companies from 25 Member States to expand COVID-19 vaccine production capacities across Europe and address bottlenecks. The event aims to speed up connections between vaccine producers and service companies such as contract development and manufacturing organisations, fill and finish, equipment producers and others, with a view to improve planning for current and future vaccine production in Europe.

EU Vaccines Strategy

A broad portfolio of vaccines based on different technological approaches maximises the chances of safe and effective vaccines being developed and deployed. With this in mind, on 17 June 2020, the European Commission presented the EU Vaccines Strategy to accelerate the development, manufacturing and deployment of vaccines against COVID-19.

The Commission has taken a decision to support various vaccines based on a sound scientific assessment, the technology used, and capacity to supply the whole of the EU.

Vaccine development is a complex and lengthy process, which normally takes around 10 years. With the vaccines strategy, the Commission supported efforts and made the development more efficient, resulting in safe and effective vaccines being distributed in the EU by the end of 2020. This achievement required running clinical trials in parallel with investments in production capacity to be able to produce millions of doses of a successful vaccine. Strict and robust authorisation procedures and safety standards are respected at all times.

Questions and answers on the EU Vaccination strategy.

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