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Vulcan Insight | EU leaders pass decision on vaccine distribution to ambassadors

After hours of discussion on how best to redistribute an extra load of 10 million doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, following criticism of some national leaders in past weeks, the EU Heads of State and Government agreed to pass the measure down to ambassador-level for a decision.

The debate followed Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s recent “surprise” at “discovering” that Austria had received less than its technically allocated share of vaccines. According to him, this was due to what he described as a “bazaar” at the Commission/Council Vaccine Steering Board which is responsible for overseeing vaccine negotiations, purchases, and equitable distribution.

To hammer home his point of how unfair smaller countries are being treated, Kurz then recruited the leaders of Latvia, Bulgaria, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, which have the lowest roll-out rates in the EU, to publicly complain about the mechanism, calling for a redesign of the distribution mechanism and a debate at this week’s European Council summit.

In what turned out to be a relatively embarrassing moment for Chancellor Kurz, the Commission made clear that, in fact, it agreed “that the most equitable solution for the allocation of doses of vaccines is on the basis of a pro rata of population of each Member State,” but that they themselves chose “to depart” from this mechanism to “flexibility” in the type and volume of vaccine each Member State purchased.

It then also emerged that the reason Austria and its compatriots did not receive their full allocation of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine was because they never took it in the first place, instead choosing to more heavily rely on the cheaper AstraZeneca jab. As previously agreed, all unrequested doses were then redistributed between those countries who wanted it, leaving Austria and its partners at the mercy of AstraZeneca’s supply issues.

With Commission President von der Leyen having now negotiated a speedier delivery of 10 million doses of the German-US vaccine which were originally supposed to be supplied in Q4, Chancellor Kurz had demanded a reallocation of the methodology to ensure his country will receive a greater share of the delivery.

With his demand having fallen on deaf ears at technical and ambassador level in the days leading up to the Summit, the vast majority of leaders were unwilling to even consider sending a greater share to the Alpine-Republic which, according to all statistics, is faring relatively well. There was, however, more willingness to accommodate the other countries which so far are widely behind the EU’s vaccination average. The issue will now be further discussed by ambassadors in the coming days.

During the Summit, which was shifted online at the last minute, Commission President von der Leyen also presented leaders with new data on vaccine manufacturing, showing that EU-based manufacturers had delivered some 88 million doses to the EU27, also exporting 77 million doses since the beginning of December.

The figures came in defence of both the Commission’s vaccine strategy, which continues to be under sporadic attack at national level, and its export transparency mechanism which it strengthened this week to allow exports to be stopped to countries that produce vaccines but do not export doses themselves, or to countries that have higher vaccination rates than the EU. While nobody wants to apply the mechanism, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo called it a measure of “last resort.”

Compliments of Vulcan Consulting – a member of the EACCNY.