Belgium sees large initial shortfall of AstraZeneca vaccine

BRUSSELS, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Belgium will receive less than half the number of COVID-19 vaccines it had expected from AstraZeneca in the first quarter, the country’s vaccine taskforce said on Saturday.

Belgium had been expecting 1.5 million doses of the vaccine, which has still to be approved, by March, but would instead get around 650,000 doses.

Reuters reported on Friday that AstraZeneca had informed European Union officials it would cut deliveries of the vaccine by 60% to a total 31 million doses in the first quarter due to production problems.

The EU has a deal to purchase at least 300 million doses from AstraZeneca, with an option for an additional 100 million. The EU drug regulator is due to decide on approving the vaccine on Jan. 29.

EU countries are already suffering from reduced supplies of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, which the companies say is due to work to ramp up production.

Belgium received 7% fewer doses of this vaccine than planned last week and was set to get 78,390, or 13% fewer than planned, in the week to come.

Health officials told a conference call they were hopeful they had access to needles capable of drawing six doses per vial, from the five initially envisaged.

Pfizer, which is committed to delivering a set number of doses, now plans to deliver on the basis of six doses per vial.

Belgian health officials said they were hopeful that a compromise could be found, whereby the delivery of vials would not be cut.

“It’s on ongoing process ... but we are hopeful, based on the discussion we had yesterday, that next week we will have good news on the volumes, as well as the speed of deliveries,” vaccine taskforce member Xavier De Cuyper said. (Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop Editing by Paul Simao)