German COVID-19 fight hit by delay to Pfizer vaccine

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s most populous state of North-Rhine Westphalia said on Wednesday it will delay the opening of new vaccination centres to Feb. 8 due to a temporary slowdown of deliveries of vaccines from Pfizer and its German partner Biotech.

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Pfizer started delivering shots in the European Union at the end of December but announced on Friday there would be a temporary impact on shipments in late January to early February caused by changes to manufacturing processes to boost output.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said he was annoyed by the short notice of the delays: “It is not easy for us... We can only vaccinate with that which has been delivered.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel and leaders of Germany’s 16 states agreed on Tuesday to extend for another two weeks a lockdown for most shops and schools until Feb. 14.

A Forsa poll for broadcasters RTL and ntv showed 49% of more than 1,000 Germans surveyed found the measures agreed on Tuesday “all in all appropriate”, with 25% finding they went too far and 24% believing they did not go far enough.

The North-Rhine Westphalia health ministry said the delays were forcing it to push back by a week the opening of 53 vaccination centres which will start offering shots to the over 80s, with no more first shots possible for the coming week.

The region has already vaccinated around 350,000 people and will add another 30,000 by the end of the week, the ministry said. Hospitals and care homes will resume vaccinations on Feb. 1 with 80,000 doses planned for that week.

The spread of the virus has slowed in Germany recently, with rise in new cases up by 15,974 to 2,068,002, but down from the 19,600 reported a week ago. However, the death toll rose by 1,148 to 48,770, above the week ago increase.

Spahn said the figures were going in the right direction, noting there were 800 fewer patients in intensive care than a week or two ago, but this was not the time to relax controls.

“The goal is to get the figures down enough so they are manageable in the longer-term and in parallel ramp up vaccination,” he said.

The health minister in North Rhine-Westphalia, Karl-Josef Laumann, said three cases had been confirmed in his region of a fast-spreading variant of the virus first detected in Britain.

Reporting by Riham Alkousaa and Emma Thomasson. Editing by Madeline Chambers and Mark Potter