The high-stakes clash between the E.U. and AstraZeneca intensified Wednesday when E.U. officials accused the company of withdrawing from a planned meeting to discuss cuts to its supply.
Dana Spinant, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, said AstraZeneca had canceled the Wednesday meeting with the health steering group. A company spokesperson later denied that AstraZeneca pulled out of the talks.
“We can confirm we will be attending the E.U. talks,” spokesperson Jenny Hursit said in an email. It’s “not accurate to say we’ve pulled out,” she said.
AstraZeneca said last week that production delays would limit the number of doses supplied to E.U. nations, prompting a backlash from European leaders, who threatened the company with legal action. Officials this week stepped up pressure on pharmaceutical companies operating in the E.U. and said vaccine makers could suffer stricter export controls.
AstraZeneca and U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which developed a coronavirus vaccine with German biotechnology firm BioNTech, have said reduced production capacity could cause delivery disruptions. But French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi announced Wednesday that it would produce Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine to make the 125 million vaccine doses allocated for the European Union.
The public spat contrasted with Biden’s promise that an additional 200 million doses of the two vaccines approved for use in the United States — Pfizer-BioNTech’s and one made by U.S. firm Moderna — would be available by summer, bringing the total to 600 million doses.
With vaccines for now largely restricted to health-care workers and high-risk groups, Biden said he hopes the general public will have access by the spring, although aides said that prediction was optimistic.
Although the vaccine rollout began in late December, states have complained that the promised numbers of doses have not arrived. As manufacturing has ramped up, however, the federal allocations will increase by about 16 percent in the coming week.
Still, authorities face an uphill battle in combating misinformation surrounding the vaccine. In an internal document obtained by The Post, Maryland health officials said that only about 58 percent of the doses allocated to nursing home staff and residents had been administered, even though vaccination clinics have been conducted at every facility.
Nursing home workers’ wariness, providers and union representatives say, is fueled by online misinformation about the vaccine and historical mistrust of the medical system of which they are a part.
It was also unclear if the boost in U.S. vaccine numbers will help with Biden’s other priority, returning schools to in-person learning. A CDC report released Tuesday concluded that schools have not been a major center of transmission. Prevention measures, including mask-wearing, appeared key to keeping schools safe.
Biden has said he wants most schools through eighth grade to open within 100 days and has asked Congress for $130 billion to offset the costs of making educational institutions safer and provide guidance on best practices.
In Moscow, by contrast, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin abruptly lifted many of the city’s coronavirus-related restrictions Wednesday, saying that the pandemic was in decline and that he had a “duty to create conditions” for a swift economic recovery.
Russia recorded more than 18,000 new cases on Tuesday, the lowest daily increase since late October. About 2,300 of those new infections were in Moscow. The measures included an 11 p.m. curfew for bars and restaurants and an order that 30 percent of employees at local companies work from home. The city’s public mask mandate will remain in place.
Elsewhere, tightened restrictions have sparked unrest. Calm returned to the streets of the Netherlands on Wednesday after three days of widespread riots over a new nighttime curfew, the country’s first since World War II.
Rioters clashed with police in more than a dozen Dutch cities, where they torched vehicles, looted shops and launched rocks and fireworks at officers. Bars, restaurants and stores have been closed as part of a months-long lockdown.
While infections have fallen in recent weeks, authorities say they are worried about a rise in cases that they attribute to more transmissible variants that first emerged in the U.K. and South Africa.
Concerns over the vaccines’ effectiveness could complicate a wider battle over global vaccine supply, a struggle that experts say will deepen the divide between poorer and wealthier nations.
In an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, philanthropist Bill Gates said poorer countries will face a lag of at least six to eight months behind richer nations in getting access to vaccines. The first vaccine rollout was a “super hard allocation problem” that has put pressure on global institutions, he said.
“Every politician is under pressure to go bid for their country to get further up in line,” said Gates, whose foundation has pledged $1.75 billion to help fight the pandemic.
The World Health Organization said Wednesday that its vaccine-sharing initiative, Covax, expects to have 25 million vaccine doses by March for a broad region that includes the Middle East, as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Djibouti. It was unclear which nations will receive the first deliveries.
The number of doses allocated for the region will reach 355 million by December, WHO official Yvan Hutin said.
Karla Adam in London, Quentin Aries in Brussels and Isabelle Khurshudyan in Moscow contributed to this report.