Commission says 12 million people in Europe so far vaccinated against Coronavirus

The latest figure, given to this site by the Commission late on Tuesday, covers all the 27 Member States in the EU, with an overall population of 450 million.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

03 Feb 2021

The figure of 12 million tops the current vaccination tally of the UK, which, so far, has given the jab to over 10 million people.

The Commission has told EU citizens to “expect a surge” in deliveries of Coronavirus vaccines - but only from the spring.

It has also conceded that it will be “extremely challenging” to move any faster on the rollout of vaccines.

The EU is coming under increasing pressure over its vaccine strategy, in particular what is perceived as a painfully slow rollout of vaccines from the three pharma companies which have so far been authorised by the EU to provide vaccines.

The UK, which, unlike the EU27, negotiated its own deals with pharma companies, said on Wednesday that is has vaccinated over 10 million of its citizens.

This compares, for example, with Belgium - where the Pfizer vaccine is being produced and distributed - which has managed to vaccinate a mere 269,000 of its near 11 million population.

Four vaccination centres in Brussels have been set up but have yet to open, with Brussels health minister Alain Maron admitting, “We are waiting for the availability of vaccines to ramp up.”

Some other Member States have fared better than Belgium but all are a long way behind the UK rate. Germany has about only one-fifth of the UK rate.

“We hope bigger volumes of vaccines will come on stream from the second quarter when we will see such a surge of supplies” European Commission spokesman

AstraZeneca will deliver an initial batch of 40 million doses of its Coronavirus vaccine to EU Member States, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said. This is nine million higher than AstraZeneca's most recent delivery estimate.

Von der Leyen said the pharmaceutical firm would “start deliveries a week earlier than expected” and “will also expand its manufacturing capacity in Europe.”

On Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly said that it “rankles” with her that some other countries are well down the road on vaccinating their populations against the Coronavirus.

In an attempt to defuse such criticism, the Commission now says that by March just over 100 million doses of vaccines will have been delivered to the EU and its 27 Member States.

On Tuesday, the Commission confirmed it had received 18 million doses of vaccines in January and says it expects to take delivery of 33 million in February and 55 million doses in March – a sum total of 106 million doses in the first quarter of 2021.

A spokesman said, “There will then be 300 million doses delivered in the second quarter of the year, more, in fact, if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is approved.”

“Delivery is speeding up. We have 1.2 billion doses being produced and, thanks to our vaccines strategy, we will be able to meet the needs of EU citizens without the need for any bilateral contracts between Member States and pharma companies.”

“We hope bigger volumes of vaccines will come on stream from the second quarter when we will see such a surge of supplies.”

“It is important that the pharma companies respect the contractual elements they have agreed to. If there is a problem we will make sure that that company still delivers the doses and that is what we are doing with AstraZeneca” European Commission spokesman

The spokesman conceded that the EU was looking at ways of making a “better response to the crisis,” adding, “we must work together to improve production capacity in the short term, in particular to address these variants of the virus.”

“We will try to maximise the number of doses available in the coming months and to deliver the substantial volumes that are needed. But to do this it is important that the pharma companies respect the contractual elements they have agreed to. If there is a problem we will make sure that that company still delivers the doses and that is what we are doing with AstraZeneca.”

“Pfizer said they had production problems and now tells us that production started again last week.”

“In the weeks and months to come we will see how things pan out in terms of swiftness, but it may be that the measures we are taking now may not have an immediate effect.”

He told reporters, “We will seek ways to ensure that delivery of vaccines is as quick and effective as possible, but, as we have seen recently, it is not as simple as signing a contract and saying, ‘lo and behold’ and two days later you have millions of doses coming in.”

“Our focus and the strategy we have is to get the doses we were supposed to get. We hope to deliver the number of doses we require for EU citizens but it would be extremely challenging to go even faster than this.”

Speaking at a general press briefing that was dominated by the vaccines row, he said, “We have pursued a diverse and broad portfolio and agreed contracts with six companies and are in negotiations with two others. But there is no vaccines nationalism about our strategy. It is not about dealing with certain nationalities of companies.”

The Commission is also facing pressure to consider the Russian vaccine which is under development.

The spokesman was asked if any Russian vaccine would have to be produced in Europe as is the case with the other pharma companies with whom the Commission has signed contracts.

He said that one criteria of EU vaccine approval is that a company must have production capacity within the EU “so that we can deliver supplies very quickly and on the day they are ready to go. This is taken into account in deciding if we want to sign a contract with a company. Companies must prove they have such capacity but we welcome all initiatives to build production capacity in the EU.”

The spokesman also sought to deflect concerns that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) had taken too long to approve vaccines.

Asked why the agency had not used the so called “exceptional circumstances” to speed up the approval procedure, he said, “Member States have underscored the need to go through the EMA in order to ensure the safety of vaccines. The agency is taking measures to accelerate the authorisation procedure.”

The Commission says it will also increase pressure on vaccine producers to make public their contracts with the EU.

“We have made it clear we would like contracts to be published and all details to be made available but we are not in a position to decide on this. That is a legal fact. Companies consider some elements of contracts to be sensitive and this has to be respected.”

Last week, the Commission published the AstraZeneca contract but with some sections redacted.

The spokesman said, “This was in the interests of security, but we will try to publish the other contracts we have. Being able to provide information on this is a positive step forward.”

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