The delivery problems with corona vaccines lead to a dispute among the EU member states: Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and the heads of government of Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic have sent a letter of complaint to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel. In the two-page letter to “Dear Ursula, dear Charles”, the sextet complains that the vaccines are not divided fairly between the 27 EU countries – some received more, some less than they are entitled to according to the proportion of the population. The politicians call on Michel to allow “a debate on this important issue between the heads of state and government as soon as possible”.
An EU representative pointed out at the weekend that Michel is inviting people to a summit meeting on March 25 and 26, at which the fight against the pandemic is on the agenda. The background to the dispute is the failures at Astra Zeneca – and the fact that some countries are more dependent on this company’s vaccines than others.
The British-Swedish manufacturer announced on Friday evening that it would only be able to deliver 100 million cans in the first half of the year instead of the promised 270. The group has been behind schedule since the beginning of the year. The Mainz company Biontech and its US partner Pfizer, however, keep their promises. And contrary to expectations, the duo’s novel mRNA vaccine was approved earlier than the Astra Zeneca drug.
Bulgaria wanted to buy less – Berlin took hold of it
This is nice for countries that have ordered a comparatively large amount from Biontech and little from Astra Zeneca. And bad for those who are the other way around. The EU Commission, which negotiated the contracts with the manufacturers, suggested distributing the vaccines of each individual manufacturer to the states exactly according to the proportion of the population. Germany will then account for 18.6 percent of the funds. However, in the fall, some governments wanted to buy less from the Biontech vaccine than they are entitled to. The product is much more expensive than the Astra Zeneca product and must be frozen. There were similar concerns with the vaccine of the US company Moderna. In particular, poorer member states such as Bulgaria were reluctant to use these vaccines – and primarily relied on Astra Zeneca.
The surplus doses of the Biontech or Moderna vaccine were then ordered by richer countries such as Germany, France, Denmark or the Netherlands. As a result, they now receive more of it than the population key suggests and are less dependent on Astra Zeneca. In Bulgaria, 55 percent of the vaccine doses delivered to date come from Astra Zeneca, in Croatia and Latvia it is more than 40 percent – and in Germany only 25 percent.
Chancellor Kurz attacks a committee headed by a compatriot
Chancellor Kurz and the other signatories argue that it is “a matter of European solidarity to ensure that all Member States, large and small, have equal access to scarce” vaccines. The Austrian Christian Democrat presented his demands at a press conference on Friday. There he also complained that there was a non-transparent “bazaar” for vaccine in the steering committee. In the body, representatives of the member states monitor the joint procurement of vaccines. Interestingly enough, Clemens Auer is an Austrian co-chairman.
The federal government as well as the governments of the Netherlands and Malta defended their purchases of additional cans against criticism from Kurz. The EU Commission announced that allocation strictly according to the population key would be fair and therefore the model originally proposed by it. But now it is “up to the member states to reach an agreement if they want to return to population-based distribution”.