‘Stick to the plan and don’t make your own vaccine side-deals,’ urges EU

The EU is struggling to keep countries aligned with its Covid-19 vaccine strategy, as governments

The EU is struggling to keep countries aligned with its Covid-19 vaccine strategy, as governments start to break rank and seek side-deals for extra jabs.

Growing concerns that member states are conducting their own negotiations has prompted the European Commission’s president to write to ministers to urge them to stick to the plan and be transparent about any discussions with pharmaceutical companies.

Germany prompted outrage last week after it emerged that Berlin negotiated 30 million extra doses of the Pfizer vaccine on top of its allocation from the EU’s haul of 600 million jabs. Countries are not supposed to negotiate bilaterally with pharmaceutical firms.

Now EU member Cyprus has also reportedly sought additional doses. President Nicos Anastasiades said he had contacted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about extra support, adding “within days we will have the answer”.

Israel is leading the world in per capita vaccinations. As of 11 January, 20.3 people out of 100 had received a jab; however, the country has been criticised by human rights groups for excluding Palestinians from its programme.

Mr Anastasiades denied that the Cypriot request breaches EU rules, insisting in an interview that “there would definitely be a problem if those vaccines had not been approved by the EU”. The Commission would not comment on what it called a “hypothetical question”.

Nevertheless, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has tasked her top health official with writing to EU governments to ask them to stick to the joint-buying and negotiating strategy and be more open about any talks underway.

“The letter will ask them to provide all the necessary transparency on the ways in which they are complying with the provisions of our strategy in terms of lack of contacts with those pharma companies we have or are currently negotiating with,” a Commission spokesperson said.

The EU’s medicine regulator last week gave the green light for the Moderna vaccine and is expected to ramp up its review of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab this week, when its developers submit a formal application. Approval is expected at the end of January. 

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