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Austria's vaccine official resigns over order and distribution mistakes

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A medical worker in Austria shows Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
A medical worker in Austria shows Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Ronald Zak
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Austria's senior official in charge of COVID-19 vaccine orders has resigned for failing to purchase all available BioNTech/Pfizer doses.

Health Minister Rudolf Anschober confirmed on Monday that Clemens Auer had asked to relieve him of his duties.

"He did not inform me of the possibility of obtaining vaccines beyond the 31 million doses already secured, via a reserve pot fed by the doses not claimed by the Member States," Anschober told ORF radio.

His departure comes after Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had accused the European Union of a lack of transparency in the distribution process.

On Friday, Kurz claimed that certain EU member states had negotiated "contracts" with laboratories behind the scenes.

The Czech Republic, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Latvia joined him in calling for discussions "as soon as possible" on these "huge" disparities.

But the European Commission has stated that it was the member states themselves had decided how to distribute vaccines "according to the epidemiological situation and vaccination needs".

"If a State decides not to benefit from its pro-rata distribution, the doses are redistributed among the other Member States concerned," the Commission said a statement.

Following the response, Kurz's Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) called for Auer to resign for failing to order the maximum number of doses possible under this mechanism, even though Austria had enough funds.

The ÖVP also called for the official to be suspended, but Health Minister Anschober said Auer had not committed any misconduct under official or criminal law.

The dispute has nevertheless put more strain on Austria's coalition government, between the ÖVP and Anschober's Green party (Grüne).

Since the start of the pandemic, Austria has recorded more than 492,000 positive cases of the coronavirus, with more than 8,800 deaths.