Five European Union countries have called for talks “as soon as possible” between EU heads of state and government on the disparities in the distribution of vaccines within the 27-member community.
Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Slovenia made the call in a letter published on Saturday.
On Friday, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz accused some EU countries of secretly negotiating contracts with laboratories and denounced an unequal distribution of vaccines against the novel Coronavirus among European countries.
A senior EU official confirmed that the letter from the five had been received and recalled that “coordinating the fight against the pandemic was the first item on the agenda” of a summit of the 27 EU head to be held on 25-26 March.
“Before each summit, we always receive letters to which we would respond,” he said, noting that the aim was still to have the leaders meet in person.
Chancellor Kurz and his four counterparts sent the letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the president of the Council (which represents the 27 member States), Charles Michel.
In it, they said, “deliveries of vaccine doses by pharma companies to individual EU member states are not being implemented on an equal basis.”
“If this system were to carry on, it would continue creating and exacerbating huge disparities among member states by this summer, whereby some would be able to reach herd immunity in a few weeks while others would lag far behind,” the five leaders said.
“We, therefore, call on you… to hold a discussion on this important matter among leaders as soon as possible,” they urged.
On Friday, Kurz said there were indications that there was a “bazaar” where some member states made additional agreements with pharmaceutical companies.
However, an EU spokesman explained that it was up to member States to “request more or less of a given vaccine.”
The Austrian Health Ministry also rejected the claims by Mr. Kurz and reiterated a statement in which the EU explained that each country was authorised to say how many doses of the different vaccines it wished to obtain.
In an interview carried on Saturday on Austrian public radio, the Secretary-General of the Austrian Health Ministry, Ines Stilling, said negotiations on vaccine supplies took place in a transparent and balanced manner.
The EU has blamed the delays in vaccination within its territory on supply and delivery problems. The 27 lag behind the United States, Israel and the United Kingdom in terms of the percentage of the population that has already received at least one dose of a vaccine.