BERLIN (Reuters) -France is delaying an EU order for 1.8 billion doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine planned for the next two years, a German newspaper said on Friday, citing EU diplomats, but Paris said it backed the contract and was just asking questions.
In its report, German daily Die Welt said the reason for Paris’ hesitation was unclear, but diplomats had speculated that it might want French companies to play a bigger part in vaccine production.
At recent meetings of European Union ministers about vaccine orders, French representatives held up decision-making by posing technical questions and requests for clarifications, Die Welt reported.
Asked about the report, a spokesman for France’s Industry Ministry told Reuters: “Contrary to what has been reported, France has officially backed the (vaccine) contract within the formal European Commission framework.”
“We are asking common sense questions with regard to the public health challenges we are facing.”
Due to massive global demand for booster doses as well as vaccines for young people, EU governments fear that they may be too late and lose out on the order.
“That would be a disaster for which France would be responsible,” Die Welt quoted one diplomat as saying.
The EU has lagged countries such as Britain and the United States in getting its citizens vaccinated against COVID-19, causing tensions within the 27-nation bloc and prompting criticism of political leaders.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers in Berlin, Matthias Blamont in Paris; Editing by Gareth Jones)