A “correction mechanism” is needed. Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz does not move away from his criticism of the deviations in the EU vaccination plans. As in the previous week, on Tuesday he insisted on a change of course for vaccine distribution in the Union – or on compliance with what he considered to be the most important agreement, according to which the corona vaccine should be delivered according to a population key.
Kurz has sought allies for his demand. At the press conference in Vienna he appeared together with his counterparts from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovenia, Boyko Borissow, Andrej Babis and Janez Jansa. Bulgaria in particular represented a country that is lagging far behind in terms of its vaccination program, not least because of some delivery bottlenecks. At the same time, however, it also suspended immunization with the AstraZeneca preparation, which has now remained unused. Nevertheless, Borisov railed against the vaccine manufacturers in particular. Not only did they not fulfill their supply contracts, but they also violated the distribution guidelines, the Prime Minister found.
However, the differences between the states result from the fact that they concluded additional agreements with the companies and relied on different vaccines – depending on their assessment of which product would be available. The EU Commission was responsible for the framework agreements, according to which the quotas were calculated, but not later called up in full by all countries.
Confusion about distribution
On Friday, Kurz had called the additional agreements, made in a steering committee of health officials, as secret agreements and called for more transparency. The opposition finds the fact that the Chancellor was not informed “untrustworthy”. The deputy SPÖ club chairman Jörg Leichtfried emphasized this. In front of journalists on Tuesday, he listed several minutes of the Council of Ministers from which it also emerged that the government was well aware of the possibility of buying additional vaccines. According to Leichtfried, Minister of Health Rudolf Anschober reported on it himself at the government meeting on January 20.
The fact that there is still confusion about the distribution key can also be seen in other EU countries. Knowledge about it was public, but unevenly distributed. For example, Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic was not particularly surprised by the deviations a few days ago. Some of his counterparts may have underestimated the importance of the fact that the vaccines are delivered according to the order quantity – and that the proportion depends on this. And that can differ from the percentage of the population.
Loophole in the vaccination plan threatens
Austria is currently not significantly affected by this, which Kurz also admits. The country is in the middle of the distribution list. But the vaccination plan is soon threatened with a major loophole. According to reports in the newspaper “Der Standard”, Austria could have secured 3.9 million cans from the US company Johnson & Johnson, but only reserved 2.5 million units. The Ministry of Health confirmed the numbers, but pointed out that the decision was made in the fall. At that time, the department – like the authorities in other countries – relied on a mix of all vaccines, none of which had yet been approved in the EU.
The preparation from Johnson & Johnson, which only needs to be administered once, has now also been approved. The Neos, among others, are outraged that Austria does not use all vaccination doses. Health spokesman Gerald Loacker promptly called for the resignation of Health Minister Rudolf Anschober.
An early delivery from Biontech / Pfizer, which the EU Commission has now agreed, could cushion the bottlenecks somewhat. An additional ten million vaccine doses should be available in the second quarter – for the entire EU. Prime Minister Borisov expressed the hope that this would primarily benefit those countries that have received fewer units so far. Chancellor Kurz left the question of whether Austria would cede some of its contingent unanswered. (czar)