Bulgaria accuses AstraZeneca of taking country's vaccine 'hope' away

·2 min read
View of the AstraZeneca factory in Dunkirk

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria's health minister has accused AstraZeneca of failing to stick to its delivery schedule of COVID-19 vaccines to the country and demanded the immediate shipment of at least 52,800 doses that were postponed to March 1.

In a sharply worded letter, Health Minister Kostadin Angelov said AstraZeneca's failure to comply with the agreed deliveries was compromising the massive vaccination campaign the Balkan country launched late last week.

The health ministry spokesman confirmed the authenticity of the letter, which was published on the website of Bulgaria's NOVA television on Wednesday.

Dozens of Bulgarians have rushed to get a shot since Saturday, improving the country's record of inoculations, which was the worst in the European Union, but also quickly depleting the supplies of AstraZeneca doses.

AstraZeneca has told the EU it would cut vaccine deliveries to the 27-member bloc by 60% in the first quarter due to production problems. On Tuesday, an EU official told Reuters the company expected to deliver less than half of the doses it was contracted to supply to the bloc in the second quarter.

Under an EU scheme, Bulgaria ordered 4.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine and arranged to receive them over 7 months, initially expecting to receive 450,000 doses in February, but has so far received only 117,000 shots.

Two deliveries for a total of 142,400 doses, confirmed on Feb. 15, were now being delayed to March 1 and reduced by about two-thirds, the letter said.

In the letter, Angelov demanded the immediate delivery of at least the 52,800 doses promised for March 1, saying that the Bulgarian government was ready to arrange air transport at its own expense as early as "tomorrow".

"I emphasise that failure to stick to the announced delivery schedule by AstraZeneca compromises the vaccination campaign in Bulgaria," Angelov wrote.

"With the lack of vaccines that were supposed to be delivered by your company the message that your company sends to the Bulgarian people would sound like this: 'AstraZeneca has taken the hope out of your hands'," he said.

(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)