(Reuters) – The European Commission said on Wednesday it has reached a deal with drugmakers Pfizer and BioNTech for the supply of an additional four million COVID-19 vaccine doses to be delivered this month.
The doses to vaccinate two million people will be supplied in addition to the planned deliveries, to ease border movement and to tackle virus hotspots, the Commission said.
“To tackle aggressive variants of the virus and to improve the situation in hotspots, quick and decisive action is necessary,” the president of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said.
The short-term burst in shipments marks a rare piece of good news following a shortfall in deliveries from Pfizer and as AstraZeneca has struggled to catch up on slower-than-agreed output.
The number of infections and hospitalisations rose steeply over the past few weeks in regions like Tyrol in Austria, Nice and Moselle in France, Bolzano in Italy and some parts of Bavaria and Saxony in Germany, according to the Commission.
The extra doses will be used to support its member states in tackling the hotspots through their targeted use, particularly in border regions, to restore free movement of goods and people, the Commission said.
France said the additional doses would boost vaccines available in the country by about 600,000.
Pfizer and German partner BioNTech’s vaccine, which won EU approval in December, has proven to be highly effective against all currently known variants of the coronavirus, the Commission added.
It said the increase in dose deliveries this month is due to successful expansion of manufacturing capacities in Europe, which was completed by mid-February.
A BioNTech spokeswoman said the additional doses were a result of an “improvement in efficiency”, adding that volumes to be delivered in the second quarter remained unchanged.
Pfizer temporarily cut deliveries to the EU in January due to construction work at its plant in the Belgian town of Puurs.
The drugmaker had previously committed to supply a total of 500 million vaccine doses to the European Union by the end of 2021, with an option for another 100 million doses.
Sources told Reuters in mid-February that Pfizer and BioNTech had ramped up deliveries to the bloc to a rate of about 5 million doses per week.
(Reporting by Yadarisa Shabong and Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru, Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri, William Maclean)