EU to place order with Pfizer for COVID shots adapted to Omicron

BRUSSELS, Dec 17 (Reuters) - European Union governments have agreed to exercise an option to buy more than 180 million doses of a version of the COVID-19 vaccine adapted for the Omicron variant developed by BioNTech (22UAy.DE) and Pfizer (PFE.N), the head of the European Commission said.

Pfizer and BioNTech began development of a prototype Omicron-specific vaccine on November 25, and said they could have it ready in March.

"The Member States have agreed to trigger a first tranche of over 180 million extra doses of adapted vaccines, in our third contract with BioNTech-Pfizer," Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference on Thursday night at the end of a regular summit with EU leaders.

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A spokesperson for the commission said on Friday deliveries would start in the second quarter of this year should the adapted vaccine be available and authorised by then.

"This order covers the adapted vaccines," the spokesperson added.

People pose with syringe with needle in front of displayed Pfizer logo in this illustration taken, December 11, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

The EU's latest contract with Pfizer and BioNTech allows EU states to buy up to 1.8 billion doses through 2023, of which half have already been ordered and the other half are optional.

Pfizer said that talks with the EU for their possible supply of optional doses had so far not concerned adapted versions of the vaccine.

"At this time, discussions with the EC about the potential for additional supply pursuant to their option rights under our agreement are not specific to an adapted vaccine," Pfizer said in a statement on Friday.

"While we believe we can deliver an adapted vaccine in March 2022, we do not yet know whether this will be needed and availability will require authorization by regulatory authorities," Pfizer said.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has so far said that there is no conclusive evidence an adapted vaccine is needed against Omicron.

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Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; additional reporting by Pushkala Aripaka; editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Jason Neely

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