Pfizer scaled back vaccine supply after learning about ‘bonus doses’
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Pfizer scaled back vaccine supply after learning about ‘bonus doses’

Credit: Belga

Pharmaceutical company Pfizer reduced the number of deliveries after hearing that a sixth “bonus dose” could be extracted from a vial, according to Belgium’s federal vaccine task force.

Last weekend, Pfizer announced that it wanted to scale up and would therefore temporarily be able to supply fewer vaccines, but that was not the only reason for the sudden delay of the vaccinations among hospital staff, of which the government was informed on Tuesday afternoon.

The reduction in supply is linked to the fact that six doses can now be taken from a Pfizer vial instead of five, according to Sabine Stordeur (UCL) of the federal vaccination task force.

She told Le Soir that the contract between Pfizer and Belgium is calculated on the number of doses, and not on the number of vials.

This means that now that the company is aware of the fact that Belgium – and other countries as well – could almost consistently get six doses, it scaled back deliveries.

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“Coming from 92 plateaus with 195 vials, we are now down to 76 plateaus,” Stordeur said. “We knew that there was a chance that they would adjust that. And they did. It is still a commercial company. It was a mistake to think we could win a dose this way.”

“We were counting the vials, but Pfizer counted the doses according to the contract,” Caroline Leys, spokesperson for the task force, confirmed to De Standaard.

Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst also reacted to the news on Twitter, asking if he could think that the reduced delivery was “not very decent” of the company.

In the meantime, the federal medicines agency FAMHP has also indicated that Pfizer has officially changed the information on the package to say that six rather than five doses can be taken from a vial.

“That applies to the whole of Europe, those reports have been adapted,” said spokesperson Ann Eeckhout. “This is nothing new for us, but it does have an impact on the communication of the figures. That is precisely why we communicate in the number of doses supplied and not in vials. At least we were able to take advantage of the six doses instead of five for a short time.”

The impact of the production adjustment at Pfizer this week is still “minor” for Belgium, according to FAMHP, but the impact will be slightly bigger next week, but in February deliveries should increase slightly. “The intention is still to receive all planned deliveries by the end of the first quarter,” Eeckhout said.

On Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stressed that Pfizer “must” deliver the contractually agreed quantity of doses of their Covid-19 vaccine, adding that it concerns a “medical necessity.”

The contracts must be respected, she stressed, reminding that all people who were among the first ones to be vaccinated are now at the moment when they should receive their second injection.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times