Austria’s chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, described the EU’s vaccination deployment as “too slow” as he announced that his country and Denmark would work with Israel on protecting their citizens against new coronavirus variants.
The move by the two member states to form a vaccine manufacturing partnership comes as the latest figures show that 7.5% of the EU population have received a vaccine dose compared with 52% in Israel and 31% in the UK.
“We must prepare for further mutations and should no longer be dependent solely on the EU in the production of second-generation vaccines,” Kurz said.
He added that Austria and Denmark “will no longer rely on the EU in the future and will in the coming years produce doses of second-generation vaccine for further mutations of the coronavirus together with Israel as well as researching jointly treatment possibilities”.
Denmark’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, said unilateral action was needed in light of the difficulties of recent months in terms of vaccine supply.
“I don’t think [the EU strategy] can stand alone, because we need to increase capacity,” she said. “That is why we are now fortunate to start a partnership with Israel.”
The EU’s vaccination strategy has suffered from uneven supply due to production issues and public perceptions of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.
France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, had described the jab without substance as “quasi-ineffective” while a number of national authorities recommended its use only among younger age groups due to a lack of data about its efficacy for older people.
In recent weeks, a number of EU member states have indicated an interest in using vaccines yet to be approved by the European Medicines Agency. The Hungarian government has already starting vaccinating its population with jabs from Russia and China.
A European commission spokesman denied suggestions EU solidarity was crumbling in the face of frustrations at the difficulties faced in recent weeks among the 27 member states.
“It’s not that the strategy unravelled,” the spokesman said. “For our vaccines, we go through the European Medicines Agency because we want to ensure efficacy and safety. What member states do in addition to that, it’s their responsibility.”
A spokesman added that member states were free to find additional vaccines as long as they did not seek to negotiate side deals with the EU’s main suppliers, namely AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer.
He said: “The point is that none of them has signalled in any way that they want to receive less doses based on our vaccination strategy.
“They all want to be be part of this. [What] certain member states are looking at is how to prepare [for] the future. That is what I understand has been said by the leaders, in preparation for the variants.”
Meanwhile, the French government confirmed it would allow people under 75 with existing health problems to receive the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, in a reversal of its previous policy of providing it only to those aged under 65.
France’s health minister, Olivier Véran, told France 2 television that raising the age limit would enable a further 2.5 million people to get vaccinated in coming weeks.
Officials justified the change of position after a study conducted in Scotland covering 5.4 million people showed both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca shots were highly effective in preventing severe infections.