Pfizer, BioNTech amp up mRNA vaccine delivery targets amid Johnson & Johnson's delays

With Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine rollout paused in the U.S. and delayed in Europe, mRNA partners Pfizer and BioNTech are stepping up to pledge accelerated delivery timelines and more doses.

Late Tuesday, Pfizer's CEO Albert Bourla said the company has "ramped up production" and can deliver another 20 million doses to the U.S. by the end of May. The company can supply its U.S. full order of 300 million doses two weeks earlier than planned, or around mid-July. 

Meanwhile, European Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday said Pfizer and BioNTech will hasten deliveries and provide 50 million additional doses by the end of the second quarter. The companies are now on target to provide 250 million doses to Europe by the end of June and 600 million by the end of the year.

Pfizer's increase to Europe will provide some solace as the vaccination push there trails efforts in the U.S. and U.K. Of the bloc’s 446 million people, 100 million have received shots, including 27 million who have been fully vaccinated, von der Leyen said.

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As for J&J, the company has committed 55 million doses of the vaccine to the EU by the end of June. But on Tuesday, with U.S. officials unveiling a recommended pause of J&J vaccinations, the drugmaker said it would delay its European rollout. The EU has requested clarification of what the delay entails.

The bloc has weathered an exasperating bob and weave of starts, stops and safety reviews with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which also has been plagued by reports of rare blood clots, some fatal. Several European countries have halted its use for all but the elderly. AZ also has come up woefully short on its supply pledges to Europe.

As a result, Europe has looked to other vaccine suppliers. On Wednesday, von der Leyen confirmed that the EU was in formal negotiations with Pfizer-BioNTech to provide up to 1.8 billion additional COVID-19 vaccine doses through 2023. 

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Earlier this week, Germany’s health minister said that the country was in negotiations with Russia for the Sputnik V vaccine, even though the shot has yet to be approved for use in Europe. 

Meanwhile, Pfizer-BioNTech are chugging along, meeting supply promises and doing it with enough capacity in some cases to accelerate timelines.