Politics

Vaccine distribution: what’s behind the Chancellor’s surprise attack

Sebastian Kurz complains about the unequal distribution of vaccination doses in Europe. In the background there is – also – a match with the coalition partner.

It was an amazing claim. All the more so since it came from the head of government himself: The vaccine doses purchased centrally by the EU are not distributed evenly and according to the population of the countries, but unevenly. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said this on Friday.

At a performance to which the Chancellor had invited at short notice, he explained that the so-called Steering Board of the EU had a kind of “bazaar” where agreements were made between member states and pharmaceutical companies.

If one believes Kurz, he is particularly outraged by the result of these agreements. Ultimately, they would mean that citizens of individual EU countries are vaccinated months faster than others. Calculations are circulating in the Chancellery that, for example, Malta could vaccinate its population more than once by June, while Bulgaria only manages 30 percent by then.

Sounds unbelievable? It is. Especially since Kurz stated in the official part of the statement that he explicitly did not want the rebuke to be understood as a criticism of Commission chief Von der Leyen or Council President Michel.

Delivery issues

This is where the Commission comes in. She was responsible for the differences between the EU countries (in Malta 25 percent are vaccinated, in Latvia and Bulgaria not even 5; note) a simple explanation: on the one hand, there are the manufacturers’ delivery problems. And there are also the different orders from the EU countries. Bulgaria, for example, has ordered a particularly large amount of the comparatively cheaper Astra-Zeneca vaccine.

But since the British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant suffers from massive delivery problems, Bulgaria – like most Eastern European countries – has so far received less than ordered. Instead of the original 80 million cans in the first quarter, Astra Zeneca will deliver barely half. The opposite is the case with those countries that have ordered a large amount of the more expensive Pfizer / Biontech or Moderna vaccine: Denmark and Malta, for example, are supplied quickly and are ahead of the pack when it comes to vaccination.

This – temporarily – unequal distribution of vaccines has nothing to do with “secret agreements” or parallel negotiations with pharmaceutical companies, the commission said.

What does that mean for the allegations? Are the different vaccination speeds simply due to the vaccine mix that individual EU countries have chosen?

This is denied in secret in the Chancellery and the following reported: In the Steering Board, individual states were not only able to define the amount of the vaccine, but also the delivery times. There have been more skillful and less skillful countries here. According to reports, Austria (like Belgium, Poland or Croatia) was reluctant, one could also say: more clumsy. A tip compared to the health department.

solidarity

So far, so clear. But why did the Chancellor, of all people, put the issue on display? In essence, Kurz should be about the fact that the different vaccination speeds not only stir up dissatisfaction in Austria, but also reduce solidarity within Europe to the point of absurdity.

The reason: They contradict the mantra of the heads of government (“Everyone in the EU receives the same amount or the same amount of vaccine”). “How do we want to explain”, the Chancellor asks in a small circle, “that one EU country will be vaccinated in May, while another will need until September?”

In addition, there is growing impatience with the coalition partner. Because if you believe ÖVP strategists, it was unclear until Friday who in the health department signed the schedules for the vaccination deliveries. Clemens Martin Auer, special representative of the ministry and Austria’s member of the Steering Board, be it not, it said. As the? Auer’s contract does not provide for such far-reaching powers. That too amazes observers.

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