SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Health minister Hugo de Jonge has warned that problems with delivering the AstraZeneca vaccine could hold up the Dutch vaccination schedule still further.
The Netherlands was the last country in Europe to begin immunising its population and passed the 100,000 mark at the weekend, representing less than 1% of the population. Among the 27 EU nations only Bulgaria has a lower vaccination rate.
But De Jonge said any delay to the AstraZeneca vaccine would have consequences for the Netherlands, even though it has yet to be approved by the European Medicines Agency.
The European Union was due to receive 80 million doses of the vaccine in the first three months of 2021, but on Friday the Oxford-based company said only around 31 million doses would be available.
A spokesman for AstraZeneca blamed ‘reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain’. The Netherlands will now receive around 920,000 doses rather than 2.3 million in the first quarter, under the EU’s population-based distribution system.
The EMA is expected to make a decision on approving the vaccine by the end of January. De Jonge said the announcement was a ‘bolt from the blue’ and backed efforts in Brussels to ensure AstraZeneca fulfilled its contractural obligations.
He insisted that the Netherlands’ vaccination programme could still meet its targets. ‘I still want to have all the groups that we regard as priority vaccinated before the summer, and everyone by the autumn.’
A spokesman for the European Commission said on Monday: ‘The EU has invested significant amounts in the company up front, precisely to ensure that production is ramped up even before the conditional market authorisation is delivered by the EMA.
Of course, production issues can appear with a complex vaccine, but we expect the company to find solutions and to exploit all possible flexibilities to deliver swiftly.’