Guy Verhofstadt: EU Coronavirus vaccine contracts “very unbalanced”

The senior MEP has strongly criticised the EU’s vaccination strategy which has come under increasing fire in recent weeks.
Source: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

19 Feb 2021

The former Alde group leader in the European Parliament has said, "Europe is the world leader in the production of vaccines… More than 75 percent of all vaccines are produced in Europe, the majority of the nearly 200 million doses of the Coronavirus vaccine have already made.”

Despite this, the former prime minister of Belgium argues that there is a critical shortage in almost every Member State. Verhofstadt, a Liberal MEP and the most senior EU political figure to so far publicly criticise the EU vaccine strategy, said, "I think it is the contracts that Europe has negotiated with the pharmaceutical companies. Those contracts are very unbalanced."

According to Verhofstadt, the contracts are very clear in terms of price but not in terms of timing and supplies and the contracts must therefore be renegotiated.

His comments come as CNN said that AstraZeneca signed its vaccines contract with the EU a day before it did so with the UK and committed to the same “best efforts” clause with both customers.

The UK has so far given over 16 million people the first vaccination jab, while EU Member States are way behind this figure and struggling to get vaccination roll outs off the ground.

"I think it is the contracts that Europe has negotiated with the pharmaceutical companies. Those contracts are very unbalanced" Guy Verhofstadt (BE, RE)

However, when looking at the number of people who have been fully vaccinated, the UK has only reached 558,577 – far behind other EU Member States such as Germany (1.53 million), Italy (1.31 million), Spain (1.12 million), Poland (691,380) and France (816, 990).

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.

The EU has defended the strategy, saying it has the “full support” of all 27 Member States. It has also put in place an export control scheme it has yet to use for the first time.

On Thursday, it was also announced that the Commission plans to launch a “contact group” on vaccines. In a letter to Parliament President David Sassoli, dated Thursday, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she wants “more institutionalised and regular information-sharing with the Parliament as we proceed with the vaccination efforts across the Union.”

Such information-sharing “should be conducted ‘in camera’ with the appropriate confidentiality ensured” but the “the appropriate member” of the Commission would be present at any meeting.

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