EU chief Coronavirus vaccine coordinator allays concerns over perceived slow rollout

Sandra Gallina, who is leading the vaccine negotiations for the EU, told MEPs, “we have the vaccines, they are coming.”
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

13 Jan 2021

Speaking at the European Parliament on Tuesday at a hearing on Coronavirus vaccines, Gallina, who is Director-General of Health and Food Safety at the Commission, fielded a raft of questions from MEPs about the EU vaccine policy and rollout.

She revealed that a third vaccine, from Astrazeneca, may be approved by the EMA by the end of this month, bringing to three the number authorised for use by the EU.

The Italian also answered questions on the delivery and timing of the vaccine rollout.

She told members, “The good news is that we now have two vaccines authorised and their efficacy is much higher than everyone expected. Quantities of these vaccines are now starting to be delivered although the schedule will be much better from April.”

“There have been some teething problems, but the vaccines are now going to Member States who will be asked how many vaccines are being used.”

“I personally helped with vaccination in Germany myself on Monday and people want to know how can we vaccinate more people? What we should do now is not talk about who should have done what, but vaccinate people” Peter Liese, EPP

“The EU and Member States have bought all that could be bought and it is now the Member States who are the ones who will have to master this.”

Gallina agreed to a demand by MEPs for more transparency in the contracts with pharmaceutical firms, adding that the contract with one unnamed company will be made available for MEPs to study in Parliament from later this week.

She told members, “I  hope that little by little all the other companies will agree to show their contacts, but you will see what is included in the contract, the structure of the contract and that we have fully respected transparency issues.”

“The contract we are making available will be open for four hours per day.”

Asked about so-called vaccine nationalism raised by some members, she added, “It was inevitable we would have this debate about nationalism because of the frantic times we are living through, but it is not an issue because quantities are there for everyone.”

“There have been some teething problems, but the vaccines are now going to Member States who will be asked how many vaccines are being used” Sandra Gallina, Commission Director-General of Health and Food Safety

On the issue of parallel contracts, also raised by members, she said, “There have been many rumours about this, but I am not aware of any such contracts. They don’t exist from what I am told.”

“We have good intelligence about this and parallel contracts are not possible. There is a pro rata scheme for the distribution and rollout of vaccines and Member States chose this method. In terms of quantities we have acted in a spirit of EU solidarity and unity.”

She added, “I can understand there being some public impatience (about the rollout) because of the way we are  living right now, which is not good, but I am exhorting the pharma companies to tell us if they have problems with production or distribution.”

“As far as I know there have so far only been a few minor issues and the deliveries are taking place as expected. You also have to remember that vaccine strategies belongs to Member States, but they are following our recommendations.”

The official told the hearing, “This is not about buying a box of aspirin, and we knew deliveries would be scarce at the start and we have asked Member States to identify priority groups.”

“All sorts of vaccine nationalism is going on right now. But we also need more time to scrutinise these pharma contracts as many MEPs are still working from home and are not in Brussels this week” Bas Eickhout, Greens/EFA

“It is also important that quantities of vaccines are not wasted but are used. We have asked Member States if they have trained personnel to do this. Some countries are going faster and some are slower but this is normal. All countries are doing this in the best possible way and according to their own systems.”

German EPP member Peter Liese said, “Yes, we want vaccines as fast as possible for as many people as possible, but we want them to be safe to and there was an initial problem with Pfizer who did not want to accept liability even if they made a mistake.”

“There is also too much nationalism in the vaccine debate and there must be no national orders such as we saw with Germany,” said Liese, a medical doctor.

“I personally helped with vaccination in Germany myself on Monday and people want to know how can we vaccinate more people? What we should do now is not talk about who should have done what but vaccinate people.”

Swedish Socialist Jytte Guteland said she wanted to know if vaccinations would be done in relation to a country’s population size, adding, “every week that there is a delay is another week where people’s health and economic state is affected.”

“There are still a lot of questions up in the air. Some information about the vaccines has still not been made public - how many vaccines are being made available per country, each week? This is one of the most sensitive issues for citizens” Pascal Canfin, Renew Europe

Italian ID member Silvia Sardone told the meeting, “there have been shortcomings and EU citizens have been given far fewer vaccines than they should have. The Commission has handled this badly and approval for the Sanofi vaccine is taking too long. It seems it is a case of everyone for themselves and I want to know why the Commission is not taking a clear stance on this.”

She added, “I would also like to know why GPs cannot be used for vaccinations as this would be helpful in moving forward with the vaccination campaign.”

Committee chair, French Renew Europe member Pascal Canfin, said, “There are still a lot of questions up in the air. Some information about the vaccines has still not been made public; how many vaccines are being made available per country, each week? This is one of the most sensitive issues for citizens.”

Dutch Greens member Bas Eickhout said, “Yes, all sorts of vaccine nationalism is going on right now. But we also need more time to scrutinise these pharma contracts as many MEPs are still working from home and are not in Brussels this week.”

ECR member Alexandr Vondra said,  “We are all counting on the Commission to avoid vaccine nationalism, but this is not easy when you see how Israel, the Gulf states and the UK are going forward so quickly with vaccinations.”

He also suggested the EU should consider infringement procedures against countries, including Germany, that had bilaterally ordered their own vaccines in violation of agreed EU practice.

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