Part of the all-encompassing corona crisis is the vaccine crisis in Austria, which also triggered a coalition crisis over the weekend. The latter broke away from his sub-function as vaccination coordinator with the withdrawal of Clemens Martin Auer, the Corona special representative of the Ministry of Health. At least outwardly, this is the case. But, as is well known, coalitions in Austria are fundamentally in a state of permanent crisis, even in quieter political times.
But what exactly happened and what is the accusation against Auer? In this piece of red-white-red political cabal, it makes a big difference whether you tell the story from the front or from the back. First of all: It is not the case that a large part of the population in Austria has already been vaccinated through other decisions. But one after anonther.
Auer is accused of not having passed on important information to the minister, namely that a little more vaccine from Biontech / Pfizer could have been obtained for Austria in January. Whereby, and this is important, the quantity itself was not and is not actually the problem. Austria receives more than 11 million vaccine doses from this manufacturer alone, and all eight producers who have signed preliminary contracts with the EU deliver 30.5 million vaccine doses – more than 24 million of these come from the four vaccines that have already been approved. That is twice enough for the population in Austria. The important question, however, is when these vaccinations will be delivered. And that just depends on the amount.
Now it is advisable to jump to the beginning of the story. Because it is important to understand why it was apparently even possible in January to purchase more vaccine from Biontech / Pfizer. In fact, more than Austria would actually have been entitled to according to the distribution key.
The vaccines are procured at EU level. That was decided by the member states, including Austria, in the summer. The aim was to avoid a competition between EU members for the scarce resource vaccine, which was ruinous in every respect. What was also clear back then, in the summer, was that every country was entitled to the same amount per capita. For Austria with its 8.9 million inhabitants, that would be around 2 percent of the total.
200 million for vaccine procurement
The process from August onwards was as follows: First the EU Commission explored one producer after the other, and they submitted an offer. At the time, it was still uncertain which vaccine would be approved first. If at least four states guaranteed acceptance, the preliminary contract was concluded. All states had the right to waive within five days, but due to the uncertain admission, the EU members tried to diversify and did not do so. Austria also made reservations with all manufacturers. However, not all EU members ordered the same proportions of each individual vaccine, even if they were entitled to it. There were price differences, but also significant logistical differences. For example, the vaccine from Biontech / Pfizer, which was already known in autumn, requires cooling to minus 70 degrees Celsius.
The Ministry of Finance initially made 200 million euros available for the procurement of the vaccine, as emerged from a parliamentary questionnaire answer at the beginning of November. The costs per dose are secret, but a list that was unintentionally briefly viewed on Twitter showed costs of 1.78 euros (AstraZeneca) to 15 euros (Moderna). It is not known whether these prices also apply or were valid for Austria.
In any case, with this financial framework, Auer put together the portfolio, as all other countries did. There is no overview of which country reserved how much from which manufacturer. Even then, before the approvals were granted, not all countries exhausted the amount they were basically entitled to. Austria apparently did not do this either. Because in the Council of Ministers of the Federal Government on November 24th, the purchase of 16.5 million vaccine doses from three producers was reported, as the protocols show. At this point in time, however, the EU had procured 1.5 billion cans, as is also mentioned. The 16.5 million vaccine doses therefore correspond more closely to one percent than the two percent that Austria would have access to due to its population. Even then, there was a steering committee in which unused cans from certain manufacturers were taken over from other countries. The question of deliveries did not arise at the time before approval.
In addition: With 7.1 million people who are eligible for a vaccination in Austria, this one percent would easily be enough. And further vaccination doses were added successively until the end of the 30.5 million vaccination doses. The Ministry of Finance released the budget twice, on January 19 it was around 115.3 million euros for additional deliveries from Biontech / Pfizer. At that time, the EU took the agreed option for the first approved vaccine to increase the 200 million doses ordered to 300 million. Auer took hold of it and reserved the entire share that Austria was entitled to according to the population key.
These deliveries were not imminent either, they were mainly for the second half of the year. In the minutes of the ministerial council, however, the declaration explains why Austria used the full amount: “This total amount serves as an acceleration factor, since a large part of this amount is only delivered in quarter 2 and quarter 3 if the maximum possible total amount is used. ” This is important.
As in the first round, not all states accessed all the amounts available to them using the population key. There was no shortage of scheduled vaccinations. The addition in the protocol that the purchase quantity has an influence on the delivery speed is decisive here. The vaccines ordered are only delivered in tranches due to the limited capacities. The proportion per country is no longer based on the demands of the population, but on the actual orders.
Estimate: 5.9 million instead of 6 million vaccine doses
Austria had already ordered a relatively large number of Pfizer / Biontech products in autumn, and most of them come from these manufacturers together with AstraZeneca. Alternatively, the EU could have stayed with the population key when distributing the tranches. Those countries that bought less Biontech would simply have received the last dose they bought earlier. In the “vaccinations per capita” statistics it would then have been a lock step.
As a result, however, there are differences, with the majority in Europe being close together. An acceleration would have been possible for Austria. It is clear that Auer, as a civil servant, could not spend more money than was made available. But he should have reported the matter, so the allegation. According to Minister Rudolf Anschober, he did not do this. Malta and Denmark have bought unused vaccine and now receive a slightly higher share from the individual tranches and can now vaccinate more. (With Malta the small size of the country plays a role).
It is not possible to precisely estimate how many additional doses of vaccine would have been delivered in the first half of the year. The Ministry of Health did a rough estimate and came up with around 100,000 doses by June. That would be 6 million vaccine doses instead of 5.9 million. For comparison: last Friday around 50,000 people in Austria received a vaccination.