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EU's health chief defends COVID vaccine rollout after criticism

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European Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides, speaks regarding the updated coronavirus (COVID-19) risk assessment in Brussels, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020.
European Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides, speaks regarding the updated coronavirus (COVID-19) risk assessment in Brussels, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020.   -   Copyright  Francois Lenoir/AP
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The EU's health chief has defended the bloc's COVID vaccine rollout amid criticism it was too slow and not enough jabs were ordered.

Vaccinations programs in the 27 nation-bloc got off to a slow start and some EU members have been quick to blame the EU’s executive arm for a perceived failure of delivering the right amount of doses. In Finland, health authorities are reportedly unhappy that the country only received about 40,000 doses in December, instead of the 300,000 that were expected.

But Stella Kyriakides, EU commissioner for health, said the vaccine strategy had been supported by all 27 member states.

"In June when the strategy was launched together with the member states, it was extremely uncertain whether we would have a successful vaccine and which vaccines would be successful," she said.

"We have since then, in six months, built a portfolio of six vaccine candidates.

"We have approved already the BioNTech/Pfizer one and we have started vaccinations in all 27 member states and the EMA (European Medicines Agency) is in the process of assessing the vaccine of Moderna.

"This is not about a blame game. This is about fighting the pandemic. We are not in competition with any other country in the whole world. The only competition is against the virus."

The EU has sealed six vaccines contracts, with Moderna, AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, Pfizer-BioNTech and CureVac. But as of Wednesday morning, only the Pfizer-BioNTech one has been approved.

Kyriakides told Euronews additional vaccines could be approved within the next two months.

"We have Moderna which is now been assessed," Kyriakides explained. "And I think that in the next one to two months we will have submissions for marketing authorisation of possibly another one to two vaccines, which I cannot be sure about at the moment."

A decision on the approval of the Moderna vaccine is set for Wednesday.

But as worries grow about the long-term effectiveness of inoculations, Kyriakides explained that there is no evidence to suggest that the vaccine will be rendered ineffective by new mutations of the coronavirus, like the one discovered in the UK.

"I discussed the mutation with the ECDC (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control) and the EMA. There seems to be no evidence of impacting the efficacy of the vaccine. Second, it [UK mutation] is indeed more transmissible and this will create issues for vulnerable populations. It's Important that member states are aware and take measures to avoid further lockdowns," said Kyriades.