Pfizer has revealed that it expects to ship just half the number of coronavirus vaccines it had originally promised in 2020.
The setback raises questions about how fast vaccinations for the deadly virus that has wreaked havoc across the world will be able to be rolled out to the billions of people who need it worldwide.
“Scaling up the raw material supply chain took longer than expected,” a company spokeswoman said.
“It’s important to highlight that the outcome of the clinical trial was somewhat later than the initial projection.”
The company blamed supply chain delays tied to the fact that it had found raw materials in early production that did not meet its standards for the shortfall.
Pfizer and partner BioNTech SE had hoped to roll out 100 million vaccines world-wide by the end of 2020. On Thursday (US time), that was cut to 50 million.
Australia has signed a deal for 10 million of the Pfizer vaccines, and it’s not known how the supply shortfall will affect that deal.
On Thursday, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Britain’s move to authorise use of the vaccine from next week would not affect the timeline for vaccinations here. They are not expected to begin until at least March 2021.
Britain granted emergency-use authorisation for the Pfizer jab on Wednesday, becoming the first Western country to set a date to start administering doses.
That decision wasn’t without controversy, with top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci apologising after issuing a warning about the British regulators’ haste to approve the vaccine.
“There really has been a misunderstanding, and for that I’m sorry, and I apologise for that,” he said.
“I do have great faith in both the scientific community and the regulatory community in the UK,” Dr Fauci said.
“I did not mean to apply any sloppiness (to the UK regulatory process), even though it came out that way,” he added.
Pfizer still expects to roll out more than a billion doses of the vaccine in 2021, as originally planned.
The two-shot vaccine also is being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration in the US. The green light to administer it could come later in December, with jabs beginning by the end of the year.
The US regulator also is considering a vaccine developed by Moderna that could begin shipping before Christmas.
The doses are among an array of vaccines that have been developed throughout 2020 as the pandemic has raged across much of the world. Worldwide, it is estimated that nearly 1.5 million people worldwide have died from the virus.
It has been an especially trying period for the US, which has just recorded the highest number of new coronavirus deaths in a single day since April.
The virus has claimed more than 273,000 lives in the US as of Wednesday.
Pfizer had seemed set to meet its 100-million dose goal until mid-November, when it became clear the supply-chain hurdles were going to make it impossible.
The news comes as a trio of former US presidents offered to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.
Barack Obama, George Bush and Bill Clinton said they were prepared to undergo vaccination to ease any public skepticism over the safety of new vaccines.
The British authorisation is a significant step in the effort to develop a promising vaccine technology into a widely available shot in record time.
Britain ordered 40 million Pfizer doses, enough to vaccinate 20 million people. The government said in November that it could get up to 10 million doses this year, but the expectation is that four to five million vaccines will be shipped.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the shots will be rolled out as quickly as they could be made at Pfizer’s Belgium plant in Puurs.
Some 800,000 shots are due in the coming days and “several millions” throughout December, Mr Hancock said.
The US government has placed an initial order for 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, with the option to purchase 500 million additional doses.
The EU ordered 200 million doses with an option for another 100 million. Japan ordered 120 million doses, and countries in South America and in the Asia-Pacific region also have placed significant orders.