EU vaccines strategy on right track but rollout in member states slow

EU vaccines strategy on right track but rollout in member states slow
Credit: Belga

The European Commission proposed on Friday to the EU Member States to purchase an additional 200 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by BioNTech and Pfizer, with the option to acquire another 100 million doses.

This would enable the EU to purchase up to 600 million doses of this vaccine, which is already being used across the EU. Altogether the Commission has secured up to 2.3 billion doses from the most promising vaccine candidates for Europe and its neighbourhood.

The additional doses will be delivered starting in the second quarter of 2021. "To rebuild EU’s economy, we have to vaccinate as many as possible as soon as possible,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at a special press conference today. The additional doses acquired from Pfizer/BioNtech had been made possible by the Commission’s early investment in capacity building, she explained.

Some EU member states have reportedly been considering buying more vaccine doses on their own but von der Leyen underlined that the Commission’s vaccine contracts with several pharmaceutical companies are legally binding for all member states and that its framework excludes any parallel negotiations.

She rejected also any criticism that the additional acquirement of doses was a sign of that the Commission had not done enough to secure enough doses. “We are now reaping the benefits of our early investments in capacity building and our strategy to buy vaccines from a basket of vaccine producers." She added that the Commission had bet on the “right horse”.

Von der Leyen was aware of the, until now, slow rollout of the vaccination programmes in the member states but was still “impressed” by how the member states are moving forward despite logistical challenges. She promised also that the Commission will monitor vaccination progress in the member states.

Until now the Commission spokespersons have been unable to reply to questions about how many vaccine doses have been delivered to the member states. Von der Leyen mentioned the need to set priorities by the member states. Confusion still reigns about whether health care staff or elderly people or both groups should be vaccinated first. In for example Sweden, health care staff were not included in the first round.

Despite today’s announcement, the member states will be facing shortages to vaccinate all priority groups, not to speak about the entire population, until the second quarter of 2021. In fact, only a few countries in the world have got off to quicker start than the EU.

One exception is Israel, which managed to acquire 4 million Pfizer doses in December, and by now has already vaccinated about 15 % or 1,5 million of its population, mainly health care staff and elderly 60+. With additional doses in the pipeline, Israel plans to vaccinate 70 % or more of its population by April or even in time for coming elections on 23 March.

The Israeli success is explained by Pfizer’s interest in rolling out its vaccine in a relatively small country with an effective health care infrastructure in the form of public sick insurance services that cover the whole population. Pfizer will also benefit from follow-up data from the vaccinations in Israel. Every person who gets vaccinated is contacted afterwards and asked to fill in a form about how he or she feels.

“Thanks to millions of vaccinations and a brief strict lockdown, we’ll save many lives and will be the first in the world to open up the economy,” Prime Minister Netanyahu said. Israel entered its third lockdown on Friday, facing high daily numbers of infections and a test positivity rate of about 7 %. The lockdown is expected to last at least two weeks.

The Israeli government has been criticised for many blunders since the first coronavirus wave hit the country and for having politicised its lockdown measures. Netanyahu counts on that the blunders will be forgotten and intends to take credit for the quick rollout of vaccinations where he no doubt played a more proactive role compared to most political leaders in the EU.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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