dpa/GNA – Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca is to give the European Union 9 million extra doses of Covid-19 vaccines by the end of March, in a gesture that may soothe tensions with the bloc but doesn’t rectify a major slash to supply.

The new promised total – 40 million shots, according to the European Commission – is only half of what the EU executive had been expecting from the British-Swedish firm in the same period before it announced major hold-ups last week.

“Step forward on vaccines,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter, indicating that tensions are abating in light of the new offer.

A series of crisis talks had previously failed to resolve the matter.

The first deliveries would also be made one week earlier than scheduled, she said, without specifying when that would be.

The company will also boost its production capacity in Europe, according to the top EU official.

AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot cited difficulties at an EU production site and implied the bloc should have ordered its doses – up to 400 million altogether – months earlier to avoid problems.

The Oxford University-developed shot is one of three approved for the EU market after getting the green light on Friday.

Von der Leyen announced the development after pandemic strategy talks with seven chief executives from the pharmaceutical firms with EU supply contracts on Sunday, as the bloc faces immense pressure over its inoculation strategy.

“The pandemic highlighted that manufacturing capacities are a limiting factor. It is essential to address these challenges,” the EU executive chief said in a written statement sent out after the videoconference, which included AstraZeneca.

The official focus of the meeting was the commission’s plan to set up a new EU Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority in cooperation with the private sector. This should help anticipate health threats and come up with responses, von der Leyen said in the statement, with a pilot scheme already being launched.

“Industry will be an important partner” in improving longer-term preparedness but also more immediate Covid-19 challenges, von der Leyen said.

The heads of German firm BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer also took part, along with Johnson and Johnson, Sanofi, Moderna and Curevac.

It seems the talks may have served as a chance to push AstraZeneca to make concessions.

The 27-member states are trailing behind Israel, Britain and the United States in vaccinating their populations.

The EU triggered a huge backlash by setting up a vaccine export control system this week. The World Health Organization slammed it as a worrying sign of vaccine nationalism, though the commission insists it is chiefly for transparency purposes.

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