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Central European leaders blast EU over vaccine distribution

Commission points out that system for sharing doses has been ‘well known for months’

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and and his counterparts in Latvia, Bulgaria, Slovenia and the Czech Republic have been slapped down after accusing the European Commission of foul play in Covid vaccine distribution.

Kurz and his allies fired off a letter to the Commission on Saturday calling for a summit to be held “as soon as possible” to discuss jabs allocation, following the “recent” discovery that doses were not being distributed in quantities proportionate to each member state’s population size. 

The letter repeats claims made by Kurz at a press conference in Vienna on Friday that “there are indications that there was also a so-called bazaar, where additional agreements were made between member states and pharmaceutical companies”.

The Commission made short shrift of the complaints, however, issuing a response that amounts to “don’t blame us”, according to Politico.

In a statement, the EU’s executive branch said that the vaccine programme had “followed a transparent process” and that member states had agreed to add “flexibility” to allow for “different distribution of doses, taking into account the epidemiological situation and the vaccination needs of each country”.

To put that another way, says Politico, the statement “restated what has been well known for months - that some countries didn’t sign up for all the vaccines they were entitled to, and others bought up the extra doses”.

The site’s Brussels Playbook notes that the Commission was “polite enough not to mention” that if Kurz was unhappy with the agreement, he could “call his own envoy on the EU’s steering board for the joint procurement”, since “an Austrian government official is in fact the co-chair of the board”.

The spate has done little to improve Kurz’s standing at home, with Austrian newspaper Der Standard describing his outburst as “quite remarkable” given that “the fact that the vaccine is not distributed one-to-one in the EU according to the size of the population is not new”.

As commentators point out, France and Germany have been able to accelerate their jab programmes after buying extra supplies of the more expensive Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

But other nations including Austria bet big on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, so delays in the pharmaceutical giant’s deliveries have set back their campaigns. 

In a further blow to faltering vaccination rollouts, the Netherlands and Ireland on Sunday joining the growing list of EU countries to suspend the use of the Oxford jab over blood clot fears.

AstraZeneca responded with a statement saying there was “no evidence” that the vaccine increases the chances of a thrombotic event - a verdict also reached by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). 

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