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Who’s to blame for the EU’s slow vaccinations?
An increasing number of EU leaders are pointing at the Commission, arguing that everything that could go wrong did: The negotiations took too long; European regulators were too slow; and the deliveries were just too small. German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz reportedly even called the EU vaccine program a “total shitshow.”
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen punched back with a staunch defense this week, saying she was “tired” of the Commission being a “scapegoat” for the slow vaccine rollout. She placed blame instead on AstraZeneca for having massively under-delivered in the first quarter of 2021.
The data, however, show there might be another reason: The member states themselves.
Figures from the end of February show that most haven’t fully used all the shots they have available. While a certain number of vaccines are deliberately held back to ensure enough second doses for each vaccinated person, the high share of unused vaccines in some countries suggests many doses are just simply sitting around unused.
To be sure, AstraZeneca has certainly under-delivered to the EU. The company planned to provide between 80 million and 100 million doses by the end of March, but in January, it drastically reduced the total to 40 million, citing manufacturing issues. Since then, the company has struggled to meet even that goal, and has supplied less than 9 million shots to the EU — although it has made more deliveries since February 28.
At the same time, some countries aren’t using all the Oxford/AstraZeneca doses they do have. The most recent data available show the rate of administration — the doses used in each EU country versus the doses received — differs significantly by manufacturer. In Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Italy and Slovenia, less than one in four Oxford/AstraZeneca doses that were delivered have been administered.
In Germany, where some people have reportedly turned down the offer to get vaccinated with the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab after the country’s scientists raised concern over its efficacy in older populations, the administration rate for this vaccine is only slightly higher, with less than one in three AstraZeneca doses having been used. By contrast, the vaccine by BioNTech/Pfizer, which makes up the vast majority of vaccine deliveries across Europe, is used at a much higher rate.
Searching for vaccines outside the bloc hasn’t necessarily helped. In Hungary, the Russian Sputnik V vaccine makes up less than 3 percent of the nation’s vaccine supply, while the Chinese Beijing/Sinopharm vaccine makes up more than 32 percent. Still, Hungary’s rate of administration comes in last in the EU, having only used 56 percent of all the vaccines they have.
The data provided to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) are not complete or always accurate, however. The data for Estonia, Lithuania and Malta all show the countries are using 100 percent of the vaccines they have available — which contradict the data provided nationally. For example, by March 5, Lithuania had actually used 85 percent of the vaccines available.
This article is part of POLITICO’s premium policy service: Pro Health Care. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharma and more, our specialized journalists keep you on top of the topics driving the health care policy agenda. Email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.