* Pfizer plans to cut further dosages to Italy
* Italy slows down the shot to ensure a second dose
* Rome must protect Italian citizens – commissioner (Adds comment from)
ROME, Jan 20 (Reuters) – Italy is considering legal action against Pfizer Inc after the US drugmaker announced further cuts in shipments of the coronavirus vaccine, said the country’s special COVID-19 commissioner Domenico Arcuri.
Pfizer has faced criticism across Europe for its surprise move to temporarily suspend vaccine deliveries to countries worried that disruption could mess up their inoculation campaigns.
The company told Italy last week that it was cutting its shipments by 29%. On Tuesday, it said it was not in a position to make up for next week’s 29% shortfall and planned “slight cuts” in deliveries, Arcuri said.
“As a result, we discussed what measures should be taken to protect Italians and their health in all civil and criminal places,” Arcuri said in a statement late Tuesday.
“It has been unanimously decided that this action will be taken starting in the coming days.”
He did not elaborate.
The Pfizer vaccine requires two injections, given about 21 days apart, to maintain the immune system well enough to fight the coronavirus.
Pfizer’s move has had a serious impact on vaccination plans drawn up by local authorities, said the governor of the northern region Emilia Romagna.
“Due to dose reductions, many regions have had to slow down or even suspend new vaccinations to ensure administration of a second dose to those who have received the first,” Stefano Bonaccini told Reuters by email.
A Pfizer spokesperson declined to comment on Wednesday on Italian legal threats and criticism of delivery delays beyond his statement on Friday about supply cuts.
The drugmaker said last week it was temporarily slowing down supplies of a coronavirus vaccine to Europe to make manufacturing changes that would boost production.
Pfizer, which is trying to deliver millions of doses at breakneck speed to curb a pandemic that has killed more than 2 million people worldwide, said the changes would “provide a significant dose increase by the end of February and March”.
According to Italian sources, Rome is now trying to assess whether Pfizer is acting under force, or circumstances beyond its control.
Otherwise, the drug group could be accused of violating the contracts it has signed with the European Union on behalf of the member countries, the source said.
One possibility is for Rome to ask the European Union to file a lawsuit with the court in the Belgian capital, Brussels, the source said.
“Local authorities will support the government in any necessary action, but I really hope this does not happen,” said Bonaccini.
Reporting by Emilio Parodi and Stephen Jewkes in Milan, Domenico Lusi in Rome; additional reporting by Josephine Mason in London; Written by Giselda Vagnoni; Edited by Nick Macfie
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