The EU is on the verge of striking the world’s biggest supply deal of Pfizer’s Covid-19 jabs.
The European Commission is finalising the purchase of 1.8 billion doses to supply member states for the next few years.
The news comes as the World Health Organisation warned that shots remained out of reach for the world’s poorest people.
Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said doses would be delivered over 2021-2023 during a visit to Pfizer’s vaccine plant in Belgium.
This is the third contract agreed by the bloc with the two companies, which have already agreed to supply 600 million doses of the two-dose vaccine this year under two previous contracts.
“We will conclude in the next days. It will secure the doses necessary to give booster shots to increase immunity,” von der Leyen said at a briefing at the Puurs factory.
The EU will now have enough vaccines to inoculate at least 70% of its adult population by the end of July, von der Leyen said, two months ahead of her previous goal of late September.
The announcement comes as the Commission looks to sever ties with AstraZeneca after the drugmaker slashed its delivery targets due to production problems.
The deal is likely to kick off a debate about the widening gap with lower-income countries as the world’s wealthiest nations scoop up stocks and race ahead with inoculation campaigns.
On Friday, World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said vaccines remain out of reach in the lowest-income countries, in comments made marking the first anniversary of the COVAX dose-sharing facility.
“Nearly 900 million vaccine doses have been administered globally, but over 81% have gone to high- or upper middle-income countries, while low-income countries have received just 0.3%,” Tedros said about the ACT (Access to COVID-19 Tools) Accelerator set up a year ago.
The US has given more than 40% of its population at least one dose, while in India, where infections have hit records, only 8% have had a first dose and many African countries only 1%, according to a Reuters analysis.