Italy to get AstraZeneca COVID shots in early 2021, 70 million by mid-year

FILE PHOTO: AstraZeneca's logo is reflected in a drop on a syringe needle in this illustration taken November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

MILAN (Reuters) - Italy will get 16 million shots of the potential COVID-19 vaccine developed by British drugmaker AstraZeneca in the first months of 2021 under a supply deal agreed at a European Union level, a government source said.

This initial supply will immunize 8 million people as the AstraZeneca vaccine will require an initial shot followed by a booster, the source told Reuters on Tuesday.

"Italy will receive 4 million shots as early as January and it will receive a further 12 million within the following three months", the source said, cautioning that this timing was subject to approval of the AstraZeneca and University of Oxford developed vaccine by the European Medicine Authority.

Rome has already booked a total of 70 million doses and Italian biotech firm IRBM, which is cooperating with AstraZeneca in developing the vaccine, told Reuters all of the shots will be delivered by mid-2021.

"IRBM aims to distribute a first tranche of 2-3 million doses, already produced, as soon as there will be validation by the regulatory authorities, whether in December or January," the group's managing director Matteo Liguori told Reuters.

Liguori added that IRBM has been ready to go for some time, having stocked up in advance on required functional material, such as vials and reagents, and had increased its equipment and instruments in order to triple their production capacity.

Italy, the first Western country to be hit by the pandemic, became the sixth in the world to surpass 50,000 coronavirus related deaths on Monday, and second in Europe after Britain.

The doses from AstraZeneca are in addition to the initial 3.4 million Italy is due to receive from Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, which are also expected as early as January.

Under the EU supply agreement, Italy will receive a total of 27 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, or 13.6% of the 200 million initially purchased by Europe.

AstraZeneca said on Monday its vaccine on average prevented 70% of COVID-19 cases in late-stage trials. This rose to 90% in a group of participants who accidentally received a half dose followed by a full dose.

AstraZeneca said it will have as many as 200 million doses by the end of 2020, around four times as many as U.S. competitor Pfizer. And it said 700 million doses could be ready globally as soon as the end of the first quarter of 2021.

The EU has secured up to 400 million doses of AstraZeneca's experimental vaccine.

(Reporting by Elvira Pollina and Emilio Parodi; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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