The EU is to receive 50 million more doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in the next three months, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said.
She said the EU is turning more heavily to BioNTech/Pfizer to make up for suspended Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses and for longer-term needs to fight the mutating coronavirus.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin tweeted that Ireland would receive an extra Pfizer 545,000 doses, with delivery to begin this month.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told RTÉ News that the additional doses coming to Ireland was "very positive news".
He said his department is now working with the commission to understand how many doses will arrive over the next three months.
Ms von der Leyen said the move by Pfizer will help to make up for the shortfall of the J&J jabs that were meant to start rolling out.
The EU is also negotiating with BioNTech/Pfizer for 1.8 billion doses of a second-generation of its mRNA vaccine to combat variants, to be delivered in 2022 and 2023, she said.
"As we can see, with the announcement by Johnson & Johnson yesterday, there are still many factors that can disrupt the planned delivery schedules of vaccines," she said.
Ms von der Leyen was referring to the company's decision to suspend European deliveries while rare blood clot cases possibly linked to its shot are investigated in the US.
"It is therefore important to act swiftly, anticipate and adjust whenever it is possible," she said, announcing the second-quarter delivery of 50 million BioNTech/Pfizer doses originally scheduled for the fourth quarter of this year.
Ms von der Leyen said that would bring the total number of BioNTech/Pfizer doses for April, May and June to 250 million, accounting for more than half of all jabs to be given in this quarter.
"I think this will substantially help consolidate the roll-out of our vaccination campaigns," she said, noting that there have already been 100 million doses given in the bloc to date, with 27 million people fully vaccinated.
The EU had a sluggish first-quarter roll-out mainly because of vaccine supply constraints, especially by AstraZeneca, which delivered less than a quarter of the 120 million doses it had promised.
We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences
Our vaccination plan in the HSE has adjusted to so many unforeseen scenarios. Today's news of an extra 545,000 Biontech Pfizer supplies is another very welcome change that we'll make. We'll continue to remodel our plans to ensure efficient delivery of all vaccines. @HSELive— Paul Reid (@paulreiddublin) April 14, 2021
Question marks are now above the adenovirus-type vaccines produced by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson in the wake of suspected blood clots.
While the European Medicines Agency has authorised AstraZeneca for all adults, many EU countries have taken the precaution of limiting its use to only older segments of the population.
Ms von der Leyen made clear that BioNTech/Pfizer was increasingly the go-to supplier for the bloc, with no health problems so far associated with its mRNA vaccine, which has proven to be highly effective against the main strains of the coronavirus present in the EU.
However, there are concerns about emerging virus variants that could dampen the effect of current vaccines.
Ms von der Leyen said to address that, "at a certain point in time, we might need booster jabs to reinforce and prolong immunity" with vaccines that are effective against mutations.
"We need to focus now on technologies that have proven their worth: mRNA vaccines are a clear case in point. And based on all this, we are now entering into negotiations with BioNTech/Pfizer for a third contract," she said.
That would foresee the delivery of 1.8 billion second-generation BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine doses over next year and 2023.
"It will entail not only the production of vaccines, but also the essential components. All of that will be based in the European Union," she said, indirectly referencing concerns that had arisen about supplies of AstraZeneca from Britain or Johnson & Johnson doses that were sent via the US for packaging.
The EU has made the production of vaccines on its territory, already the main vaccine manufacturing powerhouse in the world alongside the US, a condition of its forthcoming contracts.
"Other contracts with other companies may follow," Ms von der Leyen said.