EU’s Vaccine Solidarity Tested by Austria-Led Block of Doses
(Bloomberg) -- Infighting among European Union countries over how to disburse extra Covid doses to states most in need ended with no unanimous agreement, undermining the bloc’s delicate approach to vaccine solidarity.
Austria led the Czech Republic and Slovenia into blocking a proposal that would have diverted 3 million extra doses to five countries lagging in their vaccination efforts, according to officials familiar with the talks. The shots are part of 10 million shots Pfizer Inc. will deliver ahead of schedule.
Instead of going along with the consensus, the trio held firm and altered the math equation. It meant the other 24 states had to work out how to dip into their share to help Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia and Slovakia.
Now, the other 19 member states will receive a pro-rata portion of 6.66 million vaccines, with the five governments in need sharing 2.8 million doses as “solidarity vaccines” on top of their quota, according to a statement from the Portuguese government, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Council. Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovenia will receive a pro-rata share of the 10 million shots.
The Czechs, among those worst-off, will wind up with less than if their government had agreed to the original mechanism. Austria and Slovenia emerge net gainers, according to two diplomats aware of the talks.
This latest fight over access to vaccines highlights just how difficult it is for a bloc of 27 countries to remain united under pressure and how the system lends itself to internal conflict.
The vaccine rollout has been slow, the bloc has snipped with the U.K. and lashed out at AstraZeneca Plc over delays. In all this, the continent is battling a third wave of infections and people’s frustration at yet more lockdowns.
Two diplomats said the talks over recent weeks had at times been filled with threats and accusations, some of which have also spilled into the public domain.
The five countries that would get the extra doses opted out of purchasing their full allotment of Pfizer shots early in the vaccination campaign, choosing to order more of the cheaper Astra shots. Pfizer has met its delivery commitments while Astra has sent just 30 million of its originally committed 120 million doses to the EU in the first quarter.
Austria, which argued the loudest for the redistribution mechanism, wouldn’t have received any extra doses under an earlier plan because its orders didn’t relate entirely to the Astra shortfall and the country wasn’t lagging in vaccinations as badly as the others, said the officials.
Under the previous proposal, the five states most in need would have shared the extra 3 million doses while the remaining 7 million from the accelerated batch would have been distributed among the remaining 27 member states based on population. The Czechs would have also received a top-up of more than 140,000 jabs because it’s behind in inoculating its citizens.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.