AstraZeneca to tap global COVID-19 vaccine supply chain to fulfill Q2 deliveries to Europe

COVID-19 vaccine
AstraZeneca plans to tap its global supply chain to fulfill its second-quarter order for COVID-19 vaccines in Europe. (Kunal Mahto/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

Just a month ago, AstraZeneca told authorities in Europe it would fall short on its first-quarter COVID-19 vaccine deliveries, setting off a contentious few days as officials there pressed executives to amp up supplies. Now, the drugmaker is raising flags about its second-quarter supplies. But this time, it has a plan to divert doses from elsewhere.

AstraZeneca is still “working to increase productivity in its EU supply chain,” a spokesperson said via email, and plans to “make use of its global capability in order to achieve delivery of 180 million doses to the EU in the second quarter.” 

About “half of the expected volume is due to come from the EU supply chain, while the remainder would come from its international supply network,” she added. 

For the first three months of the year, AZ committed 80 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine, but its European supply chain didn’t produce as much yield as initially expected, leading the company to cut deliveries to around 30 million doses. After some heated back and forth, AstraZeneca said it would push to deliver 40 million doses to Europe in the first quarter.

CEO Pascal Soriot explained that the company is using a global manufacturing network, and some sites are farther along than others in learning how to scale up the complex manufacturing process. 

RELATED: AstraZeneca, EU officials duke it out in the press as COVID-19 vaccine supply battle heats up 

Responding to news of AZ's production issues, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told German publication Augsburger Allgemeine that the “vaccine manufacturers are our partners in this pandemic and they have also never faced such a challenge,” as quoted by AFP. Questions are “always arising that we can generally resolve amicably,” she added. 

Meanwhile, in recent weeks, reports surfaced that Europe could tap the Serum Institute of India for doses to help fulfill demand during the immunization effort. Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of Serum Institute, then said he’d been told to focus first on the Indian market.

RELATED: AstraZeneca's Indian COVID-19 vaccine partner told to prioritize local supplies: CEO 

Europe is also rolling out the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, but so far the region is behind the leading countries in the race to vaccinate as many people as possible.

According to Our World in Data, the EU is behind Israel, which has vaccinated the highest proportion of its population, as well as the United Arab Emirates, the U.K., the U.S. and Chile.

As AstraZeneca works to fulfill its order in Europe, an executive this week told Congress the company could have 50 million doses ready by April. The company has not yet submitted the vaccine to the U.S. FDA.