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Pfizer to cut vaccine shipments as Belgian factory renovated

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Pfizer Inc. will decrease deliveries of its Covid-19 vaccine to countries outside the US in the next three to four weeks as it renovates a factory in Belgium.

The updates will help boost capacity beginning in mid-February, according to statements from Norway, Germany, Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech SE. The factory, located in Puurs, supplies vaccine to all countries other than the US, the German Health Ministry said.

“As part of the normal productivity improvements to increase capacity, we must make modifications to the process and facility that will require additional regulatory approvals,” a Pfizer spokeswoman said in a statement. “Although this will temporarily impact shipments in late January to early February, it will provide a significant increase in doses available for patients in late February and March.”

Together, Pfizer and BioNTech will be able to deliver the fully committed quantity of vaccine doses to the European Union in the first quarter, and even higher output in the second quarter, BioNTech said in a statement Friday. The EU deliveries will return to its original schedule the week of Jan. 25, with increased deliveries commencing the week of Feb. 15.

“The companies will inform the European Commission, EU member states and other countries impacted by the changes about the updated delivery schedules,” BioNTech said in the statement.

Pfizer and its German partner are under growing pressure to make more shots as countries around the world rush to immunize vulnerable people. The companies recently increased their output target for this year by more than 50% to 2 billion doses. However, some of that increase is simply due to regulators giving health-care providers the go-ahead to pull an additional dose from each vial.

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The partners are also seeking to boost capacity at their factories and find new production partners. A new BioNTech factory in Marburg, Germany, passed its emissions review with the German state of Hesse on Friday, putting it a step closer to opening as planned next month.

Pfizer shares were little changed at $36.70 in New York on Friday, while BioNTech’s American depositary receipts fell 4%.

‘On the Case’

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she called Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla, who promised that the company will meet delivery targets for the first quarter.

“He’s personally on the case on reducing the delay,” she said. “We urgently need the guaranteed doses in the first quarter.”

Because of the dosing schedule, “there is also a medical necessity and need to stick to what we have agreed, to the schedule we have agreed, and to the delivery,” von der Leyen said. “In Europe we have been supportive and we will be supportive in what concerns the scaling up of production capacity, but we expect then that the delivery schedule is being fulfilled.”

Countries Respond

Norway said it will get 36,078 doses from Pfizer next week instead of the 43,875 that were anticipated. Two doses given three weeks apart are needed to vaccinate one person.

Meanwhile, Italy’s virus emergency czar, Domenico Arcuri, said Friday that he’s warned Pfizer that it faces potential, unspecified action for temporarily reducing shipments of its Covid-19 vaccine to Italy and other European countries.

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“Today Pfizer unilaterally announced that starting from Monday it will deliver to our country about 29% fewer vaccine vials than the schedule it had shared,” Arcuri said in a statement demanding the restoration of the original allocation.

In Canada, which has ordered more Covid-19 vaccine doses per capita than any other country, Procurement Minister Anita Anand called the temporary reduction “unfortunate.” Pfizer plans to catch up on deliveries by the end of March, Anand said, adding that by the end of September, everyone who wishes to be vaccinated will be able to get a shot.

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