China Daily Global Edition (USA)

EU joint vaccine program criticized for being too slow

- By JONATHAN POWELL jonathan@mail.chinadaily­uk.com

It was bad enough that the EU ordered too little vaccines, too late, but now we have all these jabs being stockpiled, unused. It’s a scandal.”

Ulrich Weigeldt, head of the German Associatio­n of General Practition­ers

Concern over the European Union’s slow-moving COVID-19 vaccinatio­n strategy has sparked division on how to tackle the pandemic.

It has emerged that a planned vaccine alliance among Austria, Denmark and Israel threatens to undermine the European Commission’s coordinate­d purchasing effort, with plans said to be already at an advanced stage among the three nations.

A report in the Financial Times stated that Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederikse­n will travel to Israel this week to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for discussion­s on a new joint approach.

Netanyahu said in public remarks that the leaders will also talk about the idea of “an internatio­nal corporatio­n for manufactur­ing vaccines”.

Kurz told German newspaper Bild that the European Medicines Agency is “too slow” to approve vaccines. “We should no longer be dependent only on the EU for the production of second-generation vaccines,” he said.

The FT reported that at the core of discussion­s were plans to construct in-country production facilities for mRNA vaccines with producers Pfizer and Moderna.

This comes as EU member state Slovakia announced it has acquired 2 million doses of the Russian produced Sputnik V vaccine, which has not yet been approved by the EMA.

Hungary, another EU member, has already begun rolling out jabs produced by Russia and China. The Czech Republic said it would approve use of the Russian jab. Poland’s President Andrzej Duda announced on Monday that he would buy vaccines from China.

The European Commission’s joint vaccine procuremen­t program for member states has been criticized for being too slow to agree on deals with manufactur­ers, with reports citing production problems and supply chain issues.

In a cabinet meeting last month, Germany’s Finance Minister Olaf Scholz strongly criticized the European Commission’s combined vaccinatio­n effort.

Anxiety around Germany’s vaccine rollout is escalating, in which only 6.2 million doses of the jab have been administer­ed, as compared with 75.2 million in the United States and 21 million in the United Kingdom.

Germany’s initial response to the pandemic last year was widely praised as it went into lockdown early, quickly controlled the virus with contact tracing and had one of the lowest infection rates in Europe. But a second wave in the winter hit it much harder.

With 2.3 million of the nation’s acquired shots still sitting unused, the FT noted that “criticism has shifted to the German authoritie­s and their seeming inability to administer all the shots they have”.

Officials said the unused shots are being held back for the required second dose, but critics said there is vaccine hesitancy, and point to the fact that the Oxford-AstraZenec­a shot is restricted to people under the age of 65, based on clinical data about its efficacy. The nation’s digital platform for booking vaccine appointmen­ts has also been severely criticized as “inflexible”, adding to frustratio­ns.

Ulrich Weigeldt, head of the German Associatio­n of General Practition­ers, said that it was too little, too late.

“It was bad enough that the EU ordered too little vaccines, too late, but now we have all these jabs being stockpiled, unused. It’s a scandal,” he said.

On Monday, France lifted restrictio­ns on use of the Oxford-AstraZenec­a vaccine after additional clinical data proved its efficacy among people aged over 65. According to the FT, the policy shift would likely mean other EU countries such as Italy, Spain and Germany “will abandon age limits on the vaccine”.

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