The European Union is divided into two blocks. It was with the recovery fund and it is with regard to the distribution of vaccines. The first day of the European Council summit on Thursday revealed the differences in this matter.
So much so that the distribution of the 10 million doses of Pfizer that the pharmaceutical company has promised to advance for the second quarter of the year was blocked , after reaching an agreement with the European Commission .
The reason: a group of member states, led by Austria , denounce that there is “an unequal distribution of vaccines” among the 27. The Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, was joined by the leaders of the Czech Republic and to a lesser extent Poland measure . All of them are very critical of the community executive’s strategy for vaccination.
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Austria is one of the member states with the best vaccination rate at this time of year, but the Kurz government considers that there are comparative grievances in the deliveries and harshly criticizes the “delays” that are occurring in deliveries, especially in the case of AstraZeneca .
For their part, the countries of the other bloc claim that the problem is with Austria, since it agreed to buy more doses from the pharmaceutical company, as it is the cheapest vaccine , and is now being more punished than other partners due to the cut of vials. In any case, the President of the European Council had to suspend the debate on this matter, not finding any point of agreement.
“The Commission’s proposal was from the first moment that the distribution be made only by population , but there were member states that preferred to bet more on some vaccines than on others due to a question of prices,” recalled sources consulted for 20 minutes . In such a complex context, the idea is that the debate on the distribution of doses now returns to the level of experts (that is, to be debated in the so-called Coreper) of the 27.
Include “reciprocity” and “proportionality” criteria
At the start of the summit, the president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, called on the leaders not to be “naive” and to act with determination to protect the supply of vaccines in the EU, even blocking exports of vaccines produced by laboratories that comply. their contracts with the Twenty-seven if the consignments are destined for a third country that does not allow the flow of vaccines or components in the reverse route.
In fact, the member states did agree to pick up the Commission’s glove and strengthen the vaccine export control mechanism to include “reciprocity” and “proportionality” criteria that allow going beyond vetoing exports of non-compliant pharmaceuticals. with your commitments.
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Both the Spanish president, Pedro Sánchez , and the rest of the European leaders supported that proposal, informed government sources. In this sense, one of the most incisive was the Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi , who affirmed that “European citizens feel that they have been deceived by some pharmaceutical companies” and gave his “full support” to the proposal of the president of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen , to strengthen the European vaccine export mechanism.
Von der Leyen reported this Thursday that since December 1, 2020, the EU has exported a total of 77 million doses to 33 different countries and, in addition, the Union is the main donor of the Covax system promoted by the WHO to help cover the vaccination needs of low-income countries.
Finally, at this Thursday’s summit, the EU Heads of State and Government pledged this Thursday to review their vaccine production and distribution strategy, before a first quarter that ends with only 5% of the adult population immunized due to delays, especially from AstraZeneca.
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“There is an urgent need to continue working to improve the production of vaccines in Europe and their distribution among the Member States,” said the President of the European Council, Charles Michel , at the end of the summit .
So far, 88 million doses have been distributed in the EU, of which 62 million have been administered and 18.2 million EU citizens have received the two shots from the vaccines.
“We all know that we could have gone faster if all the pharmaceutical companies had fulfilled their contracts,” said Von der Leyen. Following the meeting, the leaders pledged to “intensify efforts” to accelerate the production and distribution of the vaccines, according to the joint statement.
Concession to Austria
The leaders accepted the request of the Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, to distribute 10 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech between now until June among the eastern countries – mainly Bulgaria and Latvia – that have mainly opted for AstraZeneca vaccines and that they are going, therefore, more delayed than the rest in their vaccination campaigns.
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Kurz won that concession after raising the tone in recent weeks – leading a group of countries made up of Bulgaria, Latvia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Croatia – complaining that others like Malta may have vaccinated their entire population in May.
So far, attempts between EU and EC countries to redistribute doses to partners most in need have been unsuccessful, given a widespread delay in vaccination campaigns and governments willing to use all the drugs they have to immunize people. its citizens.
The leaders also defended the control mechanism on the export of vaccines, because it has made it possible to provide “transparency” when it comes to knowing how many doses and to which countries the pharmaceutical companies wanted to sell them.
The day of this Friday will serve to try to unblock the issue of the distribution, to advance in the vaccination passport, with the Commission’s proposal on the table. There is no close agreement on that either, but the idea of approving it for the summer is maintained in order to reactivate tourism.