Germany Urges Patience With Covid Vaccine Rollout Under Fire
(Bloomberg) -- Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government pleaded for patience as it pushed back against criticism that Germany bungled the rollout of a Covid-19 vaccine.
A shortage of doses at the start of the campaign was expected and stems from production bottlenecks rather than insufficient procurement, Health Minister Jens Spahn said Wednesday in Berlin.
“We have to ask large parts of the population for patience,” Spahn said. “We’ve ordered enough, more than enough vaccines.”
Like other European Union countries, Germany started its program with a shot jointly developed with Mainz-based BioNTech SE on Dec. 27. The shortage will be eased by additional production capacity, including the start of a facility in Marburg in February that will lead to a “massive” gain in output, he said.
A similar vaccine from U.S. biotech Moderna Inc., which won backing from the European Medicines Agency on Wednesday, could further ease supplies. Distribution of the shot could start as soon as next week, Spahn said. The EU has locked up as many as 160 million doses, with Germany to get more than 50 million.
A day after Merkel tightened and extended lockdown measures, she gathered top cabinet ministers in an effort to quell tensions within her government over claims the rollout has been too slow.
Senior members of her Social Democrat partners, including Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, questioned Merkel’s strategy of ceding responsibility for procuring vaccines to the European Union. With a national election slated for September, the tension threatens to inject party politics into the country’s pandemic fight.
At an ill-tempered meeting on Tuesday, Merkel and state leaders agreed to controversial limits on movement, sharpened restrictions on private gatherings and prolonged hard lockdown measures until at least Jan. 31. She also defended the vaccination strategy, saying more supply is coming soon.
“In the second quarter, based on all that we know from the manufacturers, we will already have significantly more vaccine doses,” Merkel said Tuesday in Berlin. The EU has ordered “significantly more vaccine than is necessary” to inoculate everyone in the bloc.
Underscoring the pressure facing Merkel’s government, Germany on Wednesday registered more than 1,000 Covid-related deaths for only the second time since the pandemic began. Contagion rates remain more than double a government target despite weeks of strict curbs.
Scholz, the SPD’s chancellor candidate who attended the meeting, denied that his criticism was a campaign ploy.
“This is about a very serious issue, whether we can properly protect the citizens of this country,” Scholz said in an interview with ARD television on Wednesday. “The most important thing, not just for today but in the future, is that we do everything to make sure as much vaccine as possible is made in Germany and Europe.”
After a relatively mild outbreak in the spring, infections in Germany have doubled since the end of November to more than 1.8 million and deaths have surged above 36,000.
Scholz said Germany, which is supporting businesses affected by the lockdown, has the financial resources to weather the crisis “for a long time.”
Thanks to years of prudent budget policy, Germany’s debt as a percentage of gross domestic product won’t rise much above 70% and will quickly shrink again once the pandemic has receded, he told ARD.
With hospitals filling up and concerns about a spike from the holidays still coming, authorities are worried about the pace of inoculations. But Germany is ahead of most other European countries.
According to the latest data from the RKI public health institute, over 367,000 people have been immunized in Germany through 11 a.m. on Wednesday, about 0.4% of the population. That compares with around 1.5% in the U.S. and nearly 2% in Britain, which both began vaccinating several weeks earlier, and about 0.3% in Italy.
Spahn, a leading figure in Merkel’s Christian Democrats, has said he is hopeful everyone who wants a shot in Germany can get one by the summer.
“If you look at some of our neighbors in the European Union, then the structures we’ve put in place are working pretty well,” he said. “I’m not saying everything is perfect, I’m not saying there isn’t room for improvement, but all in all it’s working well.”
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