The EU will have all the vaccine doses it needs from April when larger deliveries are made to the 27 member states, the bloc’s chief negotiator with the suppliers has said in response to criticism.
In evidence to the European parliament’s environment committee, Sandra Gallina – the director general for health and food safety in the European commission – said the bloc has purchased as much vaccine as had been possible.
The contracts we have agreed include schedules that will be much richer starting from April onwards – quarter two is going to be the quarter with the many doses. The first quarter we have doses and I would say that they are of course not as abundant as many would like to have them but they are, I would say, what was negotiated.
When we refer to the issue of the quantities I have also seen a big debate about the numbers, you know, some imagine that you know that there was say the possibility to buy more, I may say to you that we did, I would say, we went really very far with the quantities and we bought all that could be bought.
The commission has faced criticism for buying insufficient quantities of the vaccines from its suppliers. The EU’s executive branch secured up to 2.3bn doses from the most promising vaccine candidates but only two – BionTech/Pfizer and Moderna – have as yet received EMA approval.
The original orders from those two companies offered supplies sufficient for 230 million people for an EU population of about 450 million.
The commission this week announced a new order from Pfizer of 300m doses. It also has an advance order for 400m doses with AstraZeneca, which has applied for authorisation from the EMA. If successful, the deliveries of the AstraZeneca vaccine could be made in mid-February, Gallina told MEPs. She said:
I am not sure why this debate is there because the numbers are there, the production is ramping up. If I buy monopoly doses, paper doses, saying I bought billions, but they’re not delivered, what is the use?
The commission’s orders are shared pro-rata among the EU member states.
In response to the confirmation in Berlin that Germany had purchased extra doses beyond its share, Gallina said she did not believe the legal binding obligations on member states had been breached.
Germany has purchased doses that were rejected by other member states but Gallina said other member states had the option to do the same and such surplus vaccine would be shared equally among those interested.
Bavarians will in future be required to wear FFP2 masks when out shopping, in public spaces and on public transport, the leader of the southern German state has said in a surprise announcement.
Markus Söder said the state had to be prepared for a rise in the number of cases, despite strict lockdown measures in place, amid growing evidence that the new, more contagious variant of the virus is spreading in Germany.
The FFP2 mask requirement will come into force next Monday, Söder said, following a decision taken by Bavaria’s cabinet on Tuesday in the state capital, Munich.
Söder said he was introducing the measure despite a drop in the number of reported infections. However, as for the whole of Germany, the figures remain skewed, according to health authorities, due to underreporting during the Christmas holidays.
The wearing of masks or face coverings has been prevalent across Germany for months. Söder has not said whether the state would be providing Bavarians with the FFP2 masks that, unlike ordinary coverings, are said to offer protection for both the wearer and those they come in contact with, or whether people were expected to procure them themselves.
Earlier on Tuesday, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said Germans may have to brace themselves for an extension of the current lockdown by eight to 10 weeks.
Switzerland approves Moderna vaccine
AstraZeneca has finally filed for approval of its Covid vaccine with the European Medicines Agency two weeks after it was given the go-ahead by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority in the UK.
The EMA says it could come to a decision on 29 January if all the data it needs is supplied and all its questions are answered by the company.
The UK gave the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine emergency approval on 30 December. India has approved a version of the vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India. Argentina, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico and Morocco have also given emergency authorisation. But the world’s biggest regulatory bodies – the Food and Drug Administration in the USA and the EMA – are moving a lot more slowly.
The FDA is thought to want data from a big trial of about 30,000 people ongoing in the US before it considers approval. The existing data from trials in the UK, South Africa and Brazil left questions over the full extent of protection for older people and those from ethnic minority groups.
Because of the soaring numbers of infections in the US, it is possible that trial may soon come to conclusions.
AstraZeneca’s decision to officially seek approval from the EMA is likely to indicate that it hopes to be able to submit new data. At the beginning of January, the EMA’s deputy executive director Noel Wathion said that approval of AstraZeneca’s vaccine this month looked highly improbable because the company had yet to submit sufficient information.
Europe is also in need of many more vaccines. It has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines but supplies are going to fall far short of the needs of the bloc.
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