EU 'don't have a plan' for vaccine rollout says expert
The latest row threatens to re-open just-healed wounds from the start of the pandemic when the EU nearly tore itself apart as member states fought over protective medical equipment, border closures and an economic rescue package. And it comes amid fears that Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shots Germany made for itself could wreck an EU-wide distribution scheme designed to ensure every member state received their fair share of doses.
France took care that not too much German vaccine was purchased in relation to the French vaccine
Karl Lauterbach, an epidemiologist and MP with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Social Democrat coalition partners, alleged France was trying to influence the EU’s clutch of contracts in favour of a vaccine being developed by French pharma-giant Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline.
He said: “France took care that not too much German vaccine was purchased in relation to the French vaccine.
“I do believe that other issues rather than purely health-related matters played a role here.”
Germany’s biggest tabloid Bild ran a headline saying “France prevented more German vaccine”, referring to the Sanofi/GSK shot and that of Pfizer with the German biotechnology company BioNTech.
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French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune rejected accusations against France as “unacceptable and false”.
He said: “It is absurd to play countries and laboratories off against each other because all countries need all the vaccines to vaccinate the maximum number of people between now and the summer.”
The fresh rifts started to appear amid deep frustration over the slow roll-out of coronavirus vaccines across the EU.
The European Commission has signed just six supply deals for nearly two billion doses to be distributed on a pro-rata basis to members states based on their populations.
Of those, only the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been approved for use so far although the European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended the approval of the Moderna vaccine earlier today.
The vaccine roll-out has been a test of Brussels’ ability to unify Europe amid political pressure to speed up the process.
Some EU member states fretted over the length of time the EMA took to decide on the Pfizer/BioNTech shot, leaving it lagging behind Britain, the USA, Israel and Switzerland in approving and administering the first vaccines.
Brussels has defended its strategy and insisted it was important not to put all its eggs in one basket when various vaccines were still at the development stage.
European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said: “We always knew that it would be a complex operation and this is precisely why the European Commission was so adamant that it was important that we could sign contracts with different companies.”
Germany is coming under fire at home for not ensuring greater supplies of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine it helped to develop.
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Berlin is understood to have signed a separate deal for an extra 30 million doses even though EU governments were supposed to have committed not to conduct parallel talks with vaccine makers.
The move sparked outrage in Italy which considered making a formal complaint against Germany to the European Commission which has declined to comment on whether Germany had a separate deal with BioNTech.
The French government has also been heavily criticised for the slow start to a nationwide vaccine campaign hampered by red tape and Emmanuel Macron’s decision to tread warily in one of the world’s most vaccine-sceptical countries.
France is now stepping up its vaccine roll-out and experts say a third national lockdown should be ruled out.
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