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Some EU member states relinquished COVID vaccines last year, says France's Macron

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A nurse fills a syringe with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a health care center in Seoul Friday, Feb. 26, 2021.
A nurse fills a syringe with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a health care center in Seoul Friday, Feb. 26, 2021.   -   Copyright  Jung Yeon-je/Pool via AP Photo
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France, Germany and Denmark are among EU countries to have boosted their vaccine stocks because other members of the bloc turned down jabs allocated to them based on population, it has emerged.

Emmanuel Macron told reporters during the European Council summit that some countries did not take their full allotment of Pfizer and other coronavirus vaccines when contracts were negotiated by the EU.

Yet, almost all of those countries that relinquished or "under ordered" some vaccine doses "are coming back saying we would like to recover them," Macron explained, against the background of a report from AFP that the Czech Republic was expecting a donation of 100,000 vaccine doses from France by mid-March.

"If you look at the strict criteria, we have a little more doses than [what was set aside for] our population," Macron explained.

Macron called on the European Commission to develop mechanisms to redistribute vaccines if necessary, stating that France would "meet its responsibilities" and "stand in solidarity" with neighbours who needed extra doses.

Euronews has reached out to the French health ministry for confirmation that the country planned to donate doses to the Czech Republic but had not heard back at the time of publication.

As EU contracts were originally being negotiated last year, some member states were less enthusiastic about the messenger RNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna that are comparatively more difficult to store and manage logistically, he added.

Although no member states opted out of a vaccine contract, "some member states may be interested in less of a certain vaccine and others may be interested in more, so it is possible that member states agree on a different kind of distribution [to go beyond the pro-rata distribution]," a Commission spokesperson told Euronews.

J Scott Marcus, a senior fellow at Bruegel, a Brussels-based economics think-tank, said this was outlined in the AstraZeneca contract the EU released earlier this year.

It is "implicit in the APA (purchasing agreement) contract with AstraZeneca, and probably in the other contracts, that any Member State that has joined...can choose to take a different allocation than that to which their population entitles them," he told Euronews.

He added Macron's comments suggested that it's not clear "how things are handled if member states that previously chose to relinquish doses to which they were entitled subsequently decide that they want those doses after all".

A spokesperson for the German government said in a statement provided to Euronews in January that "if EU member states did not want to claim for themselves the portion to which they were entitled according to their share of the population, or did not want to claim them entirely...Germany ordered additional quantities for Germany."

The statement was given as Germany was being criticised for reports it negotiated bilateral deals with vaccine manufacturers, a practice that is allowed if the Commission has not already negotiated a deal with the pharmaceutical company.

Macron's comments about EU vaccine dose distribution further clarifies why some EU countries may have been slower to vaccinate their population than others and comes to light amid unprecedented delays to the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine, that some countries better prepared for as it was easier to distribute.

Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, for instance, had told parliament the country better prepared to rollout the AstraZeneca vaccine as opposed to the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, which needs to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, something that caused a delay in their coronavirus vaccine rollout, AP reported.

But amid delays to the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine doses, which sparked a row between the company and the Commission, some EU countries have considered the Russian and Chinese vaccines as a possibility.

Hungary became the first country in the EU to begin using the Chinese vaccine this past week.

European parliamentarians have called for greater transparency of vaccine dose allotments to member states and expected deliveries.

Transparent dose allocation information could help build trust and "address challenges linked to delays in supply and the speed at which vaccines are being administered," said MEP Pascal Canfin at the beginning of the month.

That information currently exists for only a few member states as the Commission has said that member states are in charge of releasing information about the number of doses they are expecting.

Additional sources • Cornelia Trefflich, Shona Murray