Brussels is fighting to maintain solidarity around its pan-European vaccination plan as evidence has emerged of member states breaking up to make their own deals with suppliers.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, contacts the health ministers of the 27 member states to assure them that they are sticking to the bloc’s common strategy.
The commission has faced criticism over the quantities of vaccines it has purchased for the 27 states, with the President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, the latest to voice concern.
Anastasiades said his government was in talks with Israel on a side deal to boost his country’s efforts, saying the EU’s purchases were “not enough for rapid and massive vaccinations.”
His comments followed confirmation in Berlin that the German government had reached an agreement with BioNTech / Pfizer for an additional 30 million doses beyond those agreed by the commission.
On Monday, a spokesperson for the committee declined to comment on developments in Germany and Cyprus, but revealed that Von der Leyen is now seeking assurances from EU capitals.
The spokesperson said: “The president asked [health] Commissioner [Stella] Kyriakides to send a letter to all the ministers of health asking them to provide us with all the necessary transparency in the way they respect the provisions of our vaccine strategy in terms of contacts, or rather lack of contacts, with these pharmaceutical companies with whom we have been or are negotiating. This letter is therefore being drafted and will be sent as soon as it is ready. “
Von der Leyen had insisted last week that unilateral efforts would not be in line with the EU’s vaccine strategy designed to ensure every member state is covered.
“It’s legally binding,” she said. “We have all agreed, legally binding, that there will be no side negotiations, no side contracts … We are all working together.”
The commission has signed six vaccine contracts for up to 2 billion doses with Pfizer / BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Sanofi / GSK, Janssen Pharmaceutica and CureVac – but only the first two have been approved for use in the block, this which leaves a significant deficit.
Last week, the commission offered to purchase an additional 200 million doses of the BioNTech / Pifzer vaccine, with the option of an additional 100 million, to supplement the 300 million doses already ordered.
It is hoped that the delivery of the first 75 doses of the new order will take place in the first half of 2021, the rest will follow in the third and fourth quarters of the year.
The potential lack of doses has been caught up by the fight to succeed Angela Merkel as German Chancellor and is increasingly a headache in other capitals.
In Cyprus over the weekend, Anastasiades told the Politis newspaper he had opened talks with Israel due to the lack of vaccine doses available under the EU plan.
” I have contacted [Israeli prime minister] Mr. Netanyahu and asked him to consider providing a quantity for the Republic of Cyprus. He will explore the possibilities and in a few days we will have the answer, ”said Anastasiades. “I don’t think there is such a problem [with the commission]. It is an effort that our country faces the delay in the production of vaccines to speed up vaccination.
Anastasiades said the commission had focused too much on purchases of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine which has yet to receive clearance from the European Medicines Agency, although it received the green light from the UK regulator on last month.
“The first indications were very encouraging, at one point there was a setback in its effectiveness… two companies arrived with a vaccine first [Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna] but the number of vaccines is not sufficient for rapid and massive vaccinations, ”said Anastasiades.