EU leaders have rushed to allay growing concern over slow nationwide immunization campaigns, promising that anyone who wants to get vaccinated will be.
Meanwhile, the founder of BioNTech, the German company that launched the first vaccine to be approved in Europe, said the EU had taken too long to secure stocks of the vaccine, and warned against possible bottlenecks with supplies in a context of growing global demand.
France has been under the most pressure to speed up its vaccination campaign, with only a few hundred doses administered to date, compared to tens of thousands in Germany and nearly a million in the UK. It takes two injections of BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine for an individual to be fully protected.
Opposition doctors and politicians accused the French government of being too cautious in its approach, in part to accommodate vaccine skeptics, and of being ill-prepared for the logistical challenges of the deployment. President Emmanuel Macron responded head-on to these concerns in his televised New Year’s speech, saying he “would not let unwarranted slowness take hold, for the wrong reasons.”
“Any French who wishes must be able to be vaccinated,” he added.
After deciding initially to focus on the elderly in retirement homes and not to vaccinate nurses and medical personnel until the end of February, France announced that medical personnel aged 50 and over would receive the vaccines from Monday. France will also open its first urban vaccination centers before the start of February. “Rest assured, the vaccination campaign will soon accelerate,” said Minister of Health Olivier Véran.
Meanwhile, Uğur Şahin, chief executive of BioNTech, the German vaccine maker, criticized the EU’s vaccine procurement strategy, saying it had been too hesitant. “The process in Europe was certainly not as quick and straightforward as in other countries,” Mr Şahin told Der Spiegel. “Partly because the European Union is not directly authorized and the Member States have a say. In a negotiation. . . it may take a long time.
He said the EU had also bet on other producers who could not deliver as quickly as BioNTech and Pfizer. “There was clearly this feeling that ‘we will have enough, and things will not be so bad, and we get them under control,'” Şahin said.
He also warned of pressure on BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine supplies. “It doesn’t look so rosy right now, a gap has arisen, because there is a lack of other vaccines that have received approval and we need to fill this gap with our vaccine,” he said. -he declares. The US has ordered 200 million doses of the BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine, while the EU has obtained 300 million.
It is not only France which is criticized for its slow deployment. Although the United States got off to a faster start than France or Germany, they fell short of their goal of vaccinating 20 million people by the end of December, with just 2.8 million people receiving the vaccine. last month.
Some 170,000 people in long-term care facilities have received the vaccine as of Dec. 30, though 2.2 million doses have been distributed to residents, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the UK – the first country to roll out a mass vaccination campaign using the BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine – there were also the hiccups. Nearly 945,000 people have received the vaccine since December 8. But doubts have arisen over whether the government can deliver on its promise to vaccinate all Britons over 50 and younger people whose health is particularly vulnerable, by the end of March.
British ministers hailed the approval this week of the country’s local vaccine, developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, as “a game changer”. However, only 530,000 doses will be available on Monday when vaccinations with the new product begin.
This is in part because each batch of doses must be checked for safety and quality before they can be released. Health officials say the rate limiting factor will be how quickly manufacturers can deliver the doses.
The UK’s chief medical officers warned this week that the availability of Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be a problem for “several months.” “The vaccine shortage is a reality that cannot be wished for,” they said.
In Germany, too, officials have come under pressure because of the slow vaccination campaign. Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Health Minister Jens Spahn urged people to be patient, saying vaccine supplies were “tight, everywhere.” But he insisted the situation would improve as more vaccines received regulatory approval.
Lars Klingbeil, general secretary of the Social Democrats, blamed Spahn for the slow start of the deployment. “The minister has had months to prepare for the planned start of vaccinations,” he told the Rheinische Post. “And he was also given all the powers he needed to do it.
Additional reporting by Sara Germano, Donato Mancini and Davide Ghiglione