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EU vaccination strategy better than the alternative, says Malta's health minister

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Newly arrived Moderna, right, and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines against the new coronavirus are seen in Hungary.
Newly arrived Moderna, right, and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines against the new coronavirus are seen in Hungary.   -   Copyright  Sandor Ujvari/MTI via AP
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The EU’s vaccination strategy has come in for fierce criticism both inside and outside the bloc.

Critics say Brussels underinvested in vaccine production and procurement, opening the door to Hungary and Slovakia getting jabs from Russia and China.

But the Mediterranean island of Malta, the smallest country in the 27-member club, has a countervailing view.

Chris Fearne, health minister and deputy prime minister, said the EU's joint purchasing strategy was better than the alternative.

“When you consider what the alternatives could have been, had we not had this joint procurement, then European countries would be competing against each other for access to the vaccine, so I think this has been an extremely important development,” he told Euronews.

“We would like to see the system extended for negotiation and purchase of medicines beyond the pandemic,” including cancer medicine, he added.

Malta has one of the best vaccination rates in the EU, with around 20% of its population having received a first dose.

It has been helped by a good vaccine uptake rate and little lag time between when the vaccine arrives in Malta and when it is given to citizens.

Valetta also chose to buy up as many vaccines as possible while some nations, for example, opted not to take up their population-based allocation.

As well as Malta, France, Germany and Denmark also received extra vaccine doses this way, Emmanuel Macron said in comments last week, adding that it was likely because the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna were more difficult to handle logistically.

But amid vast production delays for the easier-to-handle AstraZeneca vaccines, those countries are now looking to up their stocks, Macron said.

It's unclear which nations rejected vaccines. But France's health ministry said it would send 300,000 vaccine doses to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria.

“Early on, we opted to maximise the amount of vaccine we put on order before the companies that the European Commission had been negotiating with,” said Fearne.

“So we ordered not just according to proportionality but also any additional doses that the Commission has put up for availability."

“If we have all the vaccines that we have ordered, we have more than we need for our population."

Fearne, asked about criticism the EU was too slow to vaccinate compared to other countries outside the bloc, said that it would all happen in due time.

“Whether the UK gets there a few weeks before us or not, in the long run, I think it will be irrelevant I think we’ve done a very good job in making sure that all European citizens have access to the vaccine and I really believe that we are in a good place,” he said.