What’s happening to the EU vaccine scheme

Author : beritasiang
Publish Date : 2021-01-27 10:26:07

What’s happening to the EU vaccine scheme

The EU has been criticised for the slow pace of coronavirus vaccinations across its member states.

Roll-out has been hit by delays, supply problems and a row with one of the vaccine makers, AstraZeneca.

Now, the EU is warning it may tighten exports of vaccines produced by its member states, and has said it will "take any action required to protect its citizens".

How does the EU vaccine scheme work?
The EU co-ordinates the purchase of vaccines for all of its 27 member states.

The European Commission says this approach avoids competition between EU countries, as they can all access vaccines on the same terms, irrespective of their size or purchasing power. It says negotiating the purchase of large quantities also secures reductions in costs.

Once the EU buys the vaccines, it distributes them between countries on the basis of their population.

What's the problem?
The EU approved the purchase of 300 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in December. But the company was not able to supply the 12.5 million vaccines it promised the EU by the end of 2020, due to supply chain issues.

The head of BioNTech, Uğur Şahin, told the German magazine Der Spiegel, that the delay was caused because the EU wrongly assumed that several different vaccines would be ready at once and therefore spread its orders. He also said his company was ramping up its manufacturing capacity.

Other countries that have so far been more successful in vaccinating their populations approved the Moderna or Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as well.

The EU has now approved the Moderna jab and is doubling its order of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to 600m doses.

But vaccinations in parts of Europe have had to be paused after Pfizer temporarily cut deliveries to increase capacity at its processing plant in Belgium.

What is the row over the AstraZeneca vaccine?
Supply problems have also been announced by AstraZeneca, provoking criticism from the EU after hearing it would receive a reduced number of vaccines.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is expected to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine, developed with Oxford University, this month. The EU signed a deal for 300 million doses in August.

But last week the UK-Swedish pharmaceutical firm announced that due to "reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain" the number of initial doses for EU members would be lower.

The EU has warned that it could tighten the export of vaccines produced in the bloc. This could affect the UK, as Pfizer's Belgian plant supplies the UK.

The EU placed export controls on personal protective equipment in March 2020 that lasted for about two months. It said it was making sure member states had enough supplies by requiring the authorisation of sales outside the bloc.

How many people have been vaccinated?
Around 8.4 million of the EU's 448 million people have been vaccinated so far, according to the Our World in Data website.

In Germany, where 1.55 million people had been vaccinated by 25 January, the government has been under fire for lagging behind other countries in accessing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine - despite BioNTech being a German company.

In France, the number of people who have received the jab is just over one million.

The Netherlands was the last country in the EU to start vaccinations. The first person received the jab on 6 January - 10 days after their European neighbours and nearly a month after the UK. By 22 January, 135,000 people had been vaccinated there.

Italy has administered 1.29m doses of vaccine so far and Spain 1.15m doses.

A European Commission spokesperson told BBC News that the main problem with vaccines in the EU was the bottleneck in production, pointing out that the EU invested €100 million (£89m) in BioNTech production capacities before the vaccine was developed.

He said the strategy of spreading the risk among several suppliers was "fundamentally sound" and that the EU's diverse portfolio of vaccines, "if proven safe and effective, will ensure almost two billion doses for European citizens".

Which other vaccines is the EU buying?
The European Commission says it has reached agreements with five other pharmaceutical companies to purchase hundreds of millions of vaccines, once they pass clinical trials:

AstraZeneca: 400 million doses
Sanofi-GSK: 300 million doses
Johnson & Johnson: 400 million doses
CureVac: 405 million doses
Moderna: 160 million doses
The Commission concluded initial talks with another company, Novavax, for up to 200 million doses.

What about the UK?
The UK did not take part in the EU vaccine scheme although it could have done (until the end of 2020).

At the time, the government said it was opting out because it felt it wouldn't be allowed to continue its own negotiations with potential suppliers and wouldn't have a say on the price, volume and date of possible deliveries.

The UK was the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine (and rolled it out several weeks before the EU). By 25 January, 6.5m people had received a dose of vaccine.

The UK also approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, with 530,000 doses available from last week and the Moderna vaccine, with 10 million doses on order.


Category : general

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