EU defends slow vaccine rollout: 'we bought as much as we were offered'

EU defends slow vaccine rollout: 'we bought as much as we were offered'
Copyright Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse
By Joanna Gill
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Amid rising criticism of a slow approach to immunisation, the EU defended its vaccine strategy in front of MEPs. The Commission's vaccine negotiator said that vaccinations are expected to ramp up from April and that no member state 'should be left behind'.

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The EU’s vaccine negotiator, Sandra Gallina, has defended the Commission’s strategy saying "we bought as much as was offered".

Gallina faced tough questions over the bloc’s slow rollout of vaccinations from MEPs in Brussels on Tuesday. She explained that the number of doses should ramp up by April.

"It’s not just quantities you negotiate, you negotiate a specific quantity for that moment. So we have all the quantities that can be produced that are set up today and we’ll have more quantities in the future. I’m not sure why this debate is there, the numbers are there, the production is ramping up.”

The EU has secured 2bn doses of seven different vaccines to cover over 440m EU citizens and is in the process of securing doses of another vaccine as of Tuesday. 

However, the lack of information about how many doses of each vaccine will be available and when is creating tensions among member states.

"Right now there is a kind of battle between countries to know how many doses have been received. That information should be made public," argued MEP Michele Rivasi, (Greens/EFA, France).

MEPs also questioned the Director-General for Health about how many doses could come from the Pfizer-BioNtech vials.

The European Medicines agency recently said that each vial could be used to give 6 doses rather than the stated five. Something MEP and GP Peter Liese thinks could be revised to speed up immunisation.

“Yesterday I helped with the vaccination in Germany myself and when you do it really careful you can get seven doses." He called on the EU to advise the member states.

"Let’s give them the right syringes, and not only vaccinate 20 per cent more immediately but up to 40 per cent. That is the type of thing we should do now, not talk about who should have done what in August. Let’s help to vaccinate people.”

The debate also focused on what is being called vaccine nationalism, where every country negotiates for itself. The Commission says their vaccine strategy is a question of solidarity over the cost.

"In the strategy we have this element of having affordability for all health systems in Europe. This is has been a true European effort not to leave any member state behind," said Gallina.

But by leaving no member state behind, it seems the bigger EU countries, with deeper pockets, have felt short-changed. Germany has bought up extra doses not already claimed by other EU members. While some smaller member states are looking elsewhere. Cyprus is reported to have asked Israel for help with its vaccination rollout.

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