Pfizer has agreed to source supplies of its Covid-19 vaccine from French group Sanofi to ease shortages of jabs within the European Union.

Sanofi said because of the slow progress of its own vaccine, which is being developed in partnership with GlaxoSmithKline PLC (LON:GSK), it has spare capacity.

The French pharma said it will give BionTech, the German company that developed the vaccine with Pfizer, access to a plant in Frankfurt that will produce 125mln doses of the vaccine for use across the EU.

“We had a slight delay on one of our vaccine candidates and decided to use that time to mobilise our production capacities to help with the Pfizer one,” Olivier Bogillot, the head of Sanofi’s French operations said in a radio interview.

It’s the first time a drugmaker will work to help make a rival’s vaccine, he said.

The lack of vaccines available in the EU this week sparked a war of words between Brussels and the Anglo-Swedish pharma AstraZeneca PLC (LON:AZN), which has cut supplies to the union.

The UK pharma had agreed to provide 80mln doses of the jab it has developed with Oxford University in the first quarter of 2021, but informed the bloc on Friday that it would only be able to deliver around half of the agreed quantities.

In retaliation, the EU warned it will tighten exports of COVID-19 vaccines, such as the one made by Pfizer/BioNTech to non-member countries.

In an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica today, Astra chief Pascal Soriot defended the company’s position and said the fact that the EU had signed a contract for the vaccine three months after the UK had added to the delays.

There had been teething problems in manufacturing, he said, but the UK had had an extra three months to sort them out.

Britain is way ahead of the EU in terms of the numbers of people vaccinated and, in the interview, Soriot said that the UK target to inoculate the most vulnerable and key workers by mid-February was achievable.

All people aged over 50 should have received their first jab by the end of March, he added.

So far, more than 6.8mln Britons have received either the Pfizer or Astra vaccine and getting more people inoculated is key to the government’s strategy to tackle Covid-19.

UK deaths attributed to virus rose to more than 100,000 yesterday with Boris Johnson and his government receiving heavy criticism for the scale of fatalities.

Vaccination programmes in Europe and the US look set to get another boost early next week when Johnson & Johnson is expected to release results of a phase III trial of its candidate.

J&J’s study involved 45,000 people across 80 countries and approval for the vaccine might be granted as soon as two weeks after the results.

The J&J vaccine uses a genetic coding methodology,like those developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, but a delivery mechanism similar to Astra/Oxford’s vaccine that makes it easier to store and distribute with, crucially, just one dose required.

Britain has ordered 30mln doses of the J&J vaccine with an option over a further 22mln, while 200mln does have been earmarked for the EU.

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