PUURS, Belgium, (Reuters) – The European Commission said it has sealed the world’s biggest vaccine supply deal, agreeing to buy up to 1.8 billion doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for the next few years as a debate rages over inequitable access to shots for the world’s poorest people.
The vaccines from the U.S. drug maker and its German partner BioNTech will be delivered over the period 2021-2023, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at a briefing.
The agreement would be enough to inoculate the 450 million EU population for two years and comes as the bloc seeks to shore up long-term supplies.
This is the third contract agreed by the bloc with the two companies, which have already agreed to supply 600 million doses of the two-dose vaccine this year under two previous contracts. Brussels is aiming to inoculate at least 70% of EU adults by the end of the summer.
“We will conclude in the next days. It will secure the doses necessary to give booster shots to increase immunity,” von der Leyen said during a visit to Pfizer’s vaccine plant in Puurs, Belgium.
The agreement came as the World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said vaccines remain out of reach in the lowest-income countries, in comments made marking the first anniversary of the COVAX dose-sharing facility.
It is the latest move by Brussels to increase its bets on the messenger RNA (mRNA) technology the companies use and sidelines those using viral vector technology deployed by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
The Commission is looking to sever ties with AstraZeneca after the drugmaker slashed its delivery targets due to production problems. On Thursday, it threatened legal action.
Astra and J&J vaccines have been linked with a very rare, but potentially fatal side effect.