The EU executive says the increase in dose deliveries is a result of the successful expansion of Pfizer-BioNTech manufacturing capacities in Europe, which was completed by mid-February.
The extra vaccines will be supplied to the EU-27 countries, pro-rata to their population size, in the next two weeks in order to tackle coronavirus hotspots and to facilitate free border movement.
Those doses are in addition to the planned deliveries of the vaccine the EU has already agreed with BioNTech-Pfizer.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU Commission, said: “This will help member states in their efforts to keep the spread of new variants under control. Through their targeted use where they are most needed, in particular in border regions, these doses will also help ensure or restore free movement of goods and people. These are key for the functioning of health systems and the single market.”
The Commission says it is closely following the evolution of the epidemiological situation in the bloc.
Despite the current reduction in the number of deaths across the EU, due to vaccination of the elderly and most vulnerable people, it says it is concerned by the development of a series of COVID-19 hotspots across the EU, linked to what it says are the spread of new, more contagious variants.
“The BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine has proven highly effective against all currently known variants of the COVID-19 virus. Regions like Tyrol in Austria, Nice and Moselle in France, Bolzano in Italy and some parts of Bavaria and Saxony in Germany but also in many other member states have seen numbers of infections and hospitalizations rise steeply over the past weeks, leading member states to adopt stringent measures and even in certain cases to impose new border controls.”
‘Manufacturers have to honor contracts’
In a press conference with female journalists in Brussels on Monday, von der Leyen said the European Commission is “tired of being the scapegoat” for the slow rollout of vaccines, and she allocated blame to the manufacturers, notably AstraZeneca, which she said had not stockpiled doses as it started producing in Europe.
“I think it’s the responsibility of the company to organize its deliveries,” she said, as per Bloomberg’s report.
Von der Leyen on the other hand praised BioNTech/Pfizer, which, after initial challenges, developed a "reliable, stable process" and boosted COVID-19 vaccine production, while also being responsible for 95% of the export from Europe.
The EU Commission president also said she supported the recent move by Italy to block a shipment of AstraZeneca's vaccine to Australia, using the new EU vaccine export mechanism, and warned that it won't be a "one-off."
AstraZeneca has to deliver, she stressed. “And this will create a trust that they would be honoring their contract and if they're honoring the contract, of course, the doors are open for exports," von der Leyen said, according to the EU Observer’s take on Monday’s press briefing.