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COVID vaccines: 'Every jab counts' says Hancock as EU member states give second doses

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A medical worker holding a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and a syringe during mass vaccination starts in Vienna, Austria, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021.
A medical worker holding a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and a syringe during mass vaccination starts in Vienna, Austria, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Ronald Zak
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European countries are pushing ahead with vaccinations even as news hit that Pfizer would have delayed deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines in January and February.

After a slow start, France has opened up COVID-19 vaccinations to people over the age of 75 and those at high risk for COVID-19 to speed up vaccinations.

Italy has vaccinated over a million people while Spain is promising to have 70% of the population vaccinated by the summer.

The UK's Matt Hancock held a press conference on Monday night to announce that Britain has so far given an initial vaccine dose to 4.6 million people, pointing out that this number was "double the rate per person per day than any other country in Europe."

"Don't blow it now," Hancock warned. "We're on the route out."

Meanwhile, six European countries branded the Pfizer announcement of delays as "unacceptable" calling on Brussels to ensure "transparency and stability".

A spokeswoman for Pfizer Denmark confirmed on Friday that in order for the company to reach its two billion doses target for the year, facilities at its plant in Puurs, Belgium, must be adapted which "requires new quality tests and approvals from the authorities".

"As a consequence, fewer doses will be available for European countries at the end of January and the beginning of February," she added.

Health ministers from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden wrote in a joint letter to the European Commission following the announcement that "this situation is unacceptable."

"Not only does it impact the planned vaccination schedules, it also decreases the credibility of the vaccination process," they added.

They are calling on the bloc's health commissioner to stress to Pfizer "the need to ensure stability and transparency of timely deliveries".

The delay will impact every European country.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FIH) said in a statement that "this means that in week 3 we will receive 7,800 fewer doses than Pfizer had previously reported". It added that it will be able to "compensate for this reduction in deliveries with the emergency stockpile" it has created.

A French governmental source told AFP that the authorities will revise its vaccination strategy "as soon as France knows the exact level of future deliveries". It added that the delay will not impact "the overall deployment of the vaccination campaign" because the country "had anticipated potential delays".

France, which has so far received about 1.5 million doses, had by Monday vaccinated 422,000 people. It targets 1 million vaccinations by the end of the month.

Euronews has contacted the European Commission to enquire about EU member states' expected deliveries going forward.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in Lisbon, Portugal, that she "immediately called the CEO of Pfizer" following the announcement.

"He reassured me that all guaranteed doses of the first quarter will be delivered in the first quarter. He's personally on the case on reducing the delay period and to make sure that they will catch up as soon as possible," she added.

Brussels has purchased some 2 billion vaccine doses from multiple companies for use in the 27 member states. The contract with Pfizer/BioNTech is for 600 million doses, half of which were expected to be delivered before September.

The Commission does not, however, oversee the delivery of the doses to member states and each country is also responsible for its vaccination strategy. EU member states started vaccinating people on December 27 in a coordinated roll-out.

Italy, continental Europe's most severely-hit country, has so far administered 1.1 million of the 1.4 million doses it has received — the largest amount in numerical terms. It is followed by Germany and Spain where 1.05 million and 768,000 doses have been used respectively.

But with more than 2.88 doses administered per 100 people, Denmark has for now inoculated the highest share of inhabitants.

The UK, which started its vaccination campaign nearly three weeks earlier, is far ahead with more than 3.8 million people vaccinated. This however comes as someone is admitted to hospital with coronavirus every 30 seconds in the country.