BRUSSELS - The European Union (EU) is about to open talks with a pharmaceutical company to secure up to 1.8 billion doses of second-generation mRNA vaccine against emerging coronavirus strains, a source in the European Commission has revealed.
The upcoming deal aims to have deliveries made on a monthly schedule starting late this year and going into 2023, the source told AFP.
It is part of the commission's preparedness plan to handle "the next stages" of the pandemic as the coronavirus continues to mutate, said the source, who is familiar with the approach taken by commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.
The source would not say which "sole supplier" would be tapped, but did not demur asked if it was BioNTech/Pfizer, which has already agreed to bring forward deliveries to the EU of its first-generation mRNA vaccine.
"We want a big volume" of doses, "we want a firm contract for 900 million doses and an option for the same again", the source said, confirming information first reported by the German newspaper Die Welt.
The extra doses would greatly increase the EU's access to vaccines to fight the coronavirus pandemic by going beyond the 2.6 billion doses of various "first-generation" vaccines already secured for this year and next.
They would address growing concerns globally that the current vaccines deployed can have their effects dampened by some variants, as appears to already be the case with strains first detected in South Africa and Brazil.
"There will be a delivery obligation" for the extra doses, the source emphasised.
That implicitly pointed to problems the commission has had with AstraZeneca, which has come up short in delivering contracted doses of its vaccine -- an adenovirus vaccine different from the mRNA types produced by BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna.