Covid-19 roundup: Flood, deadly fire threaten AstraZeneca vaccine plants; Italy wonders aloud if it can sue Pfizer for vaccine shortfalls
As reports crop up that deliveries of Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine are being unexpectedly cut, Italy wonders if it can take the vaccine developers to court, according to the Wall Street Journal.
After its shipment for this week was cut by 29%, the Italian government consulted its attorney general about taking legal action, the WSJ reported. Pfizer and BioNTech had warned the EU and Canada last week that their allocations would be reduced as Pfizer upgrades its Belgium factory. What Italy says it doesn’t appreciate, though, is the short notice.
Italy isn’t the first country to complain of vaccine shortages as authorities scramble to get doses in arms. Germany’s Hamburg said they also received a smaller shipment — and they’re struggling to extract a full six doses from vials.
While the vials were initially labeled for five doses, the EU found earlier this month that it was possible to squeeze out a sixth dose. Pfizer and BioNTech said they are committed to delivering a certain amount of doses — not vials, according to the WSJ. But without a special syringe, those administering the vaccine can’t quite get that sixth dose out, the paper reported.
Last month, several US states also complained of sharply reduced vaccine allocations. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the CDC told him to expect 40% fewer doses one week, NPR reported. Iowa was expecting a 30% shortfall. Pfizer said it had millions of doses sitting in a warehouse, and was awaiting instructions from the government. HHS Secretary Alex Azar, on the other hand, blamed Pfizer’s production capacity.
The news comes as the US lags behind its distribution plans. While federal projections had aimed to distribute 20 million doses by the end of 2020, only 16.5 million doses have been administered so far, according to the CDC.
Deadly fire strikes facilities making AstraZeneca vaccine in India
A deadly fire broke out Thursday at the Serum Institute of India, where hundreds of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 are being manufactured.
Five people died in the blaze, the cause of which remains unknown. Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla expressed condolences for the families and sought to assure that the tragedy would not impact vaccine production, as the institute had 50 million doses in reserve and other buildings dedicated to production.
The fire broke out in a new building the manufacturer was building to scale production of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Murlidhar Mohol, mayor of Pune city, where the Serum Institute is located, said the victims were likely construction workers, AP reported.
We have just received some distressing updates; upon further investigation we have learnt that there has unfortunately been some loss of life at the incident. We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the departed.
— Adar Poonawalla (@adarpoonawalla) January 21, 2021
The fire was one of two disasters to threaten facilities making AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine in the last 24 hours. A vaccine plant in Wrexham, Wales sought aid from local authorities Wednesday as a storm tore into the town, causing flooding and evacuations.
The factory, though, appears to have weathered the tumult. A spokesperson told Bloomberg Thursday that they experienced mild flooding, but suffered no disruptions to work and production is ongoing.
AstraZeneca, despite facing substantial setbacks in its vaccine program, has pursued the most ambitious production goals of any Covid-19 developer, aiming to produce 3 billion doses worldwide by the end of 2021. The Serum Institute accounts for around 1 billion doses of that total. — Jason Mast
US recommits to WHO under new Biden administration
On his first day in office, President Joe Biden inked a directive recommitting the US to the World Health Organization, reversing the Trump’s administration’s calls to abandon the agency amid the pandemic.
According to Secretary of State-designate Tony Blinken, that means joining COVAX, a program set up by CEPI, the WHO and Gavi to equitably distribute vaccines around the world, the Washington Post reported.
More than 180 countries had signed agreements to the COVAX Facility as of Oct. 14, including France, the UK and China. The cooperative aims to deliver 2 billion doses by the end of 2021. The Trump administration, however, refused to join. One White House spokesman said the country won’t be “constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China,” according to a Bloomberg report.
The Trump administration gave notice of plans to withdraw from the WHO back in July. But severing ties with the agency isn’t that simple. According to the terms of a joint resolution passed in 1948, the US must give a year’s notice and pay back debts before it can leave. However, whether Trump could do so without Congress was unclear, and Democratic lawmakers pushed back.
Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told WaPo that he thinks the WHO will welcome the US. “But there’s going to be an edge to it,” he said.
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