The European Parliament is set to be turned into a vaccination centre to help with Europe’s flagging roll out of Coronavirus vaccines. The relevant services are working to prepare the centre by 22 February.
A Parliament spokesman told The Parliament Magazine that they intend to participate in vaccination campaigns at each of the three workplaces in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg.
The aim, she said, was to “reduce the burden on the national health-care systems while ensuring its duty of care for MEPs and staff.” This includes “externals” working full time for Parliament. “This would be with the agreement of the national authorities,” the spokesman added.
The objective, she said, is to ensure “access to vaccination as soon as possible.” She also said that, in Belgium, Parliament is in the process of “acquiring the status of accredited vaccination centre”.
In Luxembourg, where it also has a base, discussions are ongoing with the authorities, under the lead of the European Court of Justice, “to ensure that staff have access to vaccination as soon as possible.”
“Parliament is examining the possibility to offer its support to the local authorities in Brussels in the form of a space for a public vaccination centre on Parliament's premises to support the host country in its vaccination campaign”
She continued, “As for Strasbourg and the EPLOs, the Parliament is working with the relevant authorities to ensure that staff have access to local vaccination centres.”
Parliament has refuted suggestions that MEPs may “jump the queue” in the roll out. She stressed, “In any event, the vaccination timeline in the European Parliament would follow the one established by the national authorities.”
“So, in Brussels, the Belgian decisions regarding priority groups for instance and the overall rollout of the vaccination scheme.” Currently, Belgian authorities envisage to start with their phase 1b as of mid-March. “The vaccine would be the one made available by the national authorities, not a choice of the institution.”
The spokesman said, “Regarding MEPS, they could also choose to be vaccinated in their home country if so, provided by their national authorities.”
“In addition, Parliament is examining the possibility to offer its support to the local authorities in Brussels in the form of a space for a public vaccination centre on Parliament's premises to support the host country in its vaccination campaign.”
“As for Strasbourg and the EPLOs, the Parliament is working with the relevant authorities to ensure that staff have access to local vaccination centres”
Letters inviting every Belgian resident to get vaccinated against Coronavirus are due to be sent out in phases between March and June. The letters will be posted out two weeks beforehand.
The EU and Member States have been roundly criticised for the slow roll out of vaccines. Belgium, for example, 366,600 people had received the first shot of the vaccine as of 16 February. On the same day, the UK had given 15.3m people in less than two weeks.
However, when looking at the number of people who have been fully vaccinated, the UK has only reached 539, 630 – far behind other EU Member States such as Germany (1.41 million), Italy (1.29 million), Spain (1.07 million), Poland (645,971) and even France (640, 875).
The UK has taken the risky approach of leaving up to two months between each vaccination injection, twice as long as recommended by the vaccine’s producers and the WHO.
Meanwhile, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has claimed that Hungary will be able to vaccinate millions more people against COVID-19 than other EU countries as it is planning to use the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine.
“If we compare Hungary’s vaccination plan with the European situation, then Hungary can vaccinate 3.5 million more people by the end of May than a European country of the same size and population. I think this is huge.”
“Regarding MEPS, they could also choose to be vaccinated in their home country if so, provided by their national authorities”
Hungarian authorities have streamlined the vaccine approval process, meaning that any jab administered to at least 1 million people worldwide could be used without being granted approval by Hungary’s medicines regulator.
Elsewhere, Michel Barnier has defended the EU’s much-criticised vaccines strategy. Asked about mounting “vaccine tensions” in Europe, the former EU Commissioner said, “It is always simpler to decide when you are one member state alone than one of 27.”
He added, “But we all face an unusual, unprecedented challenge… In this crisis the Commission did well and acted correctly by pooling decisions on vaccine. It is thanks to this pooling that the smallest Member States will be treated the same as the biggest.”