Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced on Monday that he intended to work with Israel and Denmark on future vaccine production and collaboration on developing more shots to combat new coronavirus mutations. He will visit Israel on Thursday with Danish guide Mette Frederiksen.
The Austrian head of state has sharply criticized the EU’s vaccination strategy and the bloc’s regulatory authority, the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The EU approved the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine in late December 2020, weeks after it was approved in the UK and US.
Brussels has chosen a centralized approach to the procurement and distribution of vaccines, but its plan has been hampered by delivery and distribution problems. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 5.5% of the 447 million EU population have received a first dose of vaccine.
The EMA has approved three vaccines – Pfizer / BioNTech, Oxford / AstraZeneca and Moderna – but EU countries can emergency approve other shots individually, as was the case in the UK in December when it was still in transition after the Brexit was.
“The European Medicines Agency is too slow in terms of the approval of pharmaceutical companies,” said Kurz, according to ORF. “That is why we have to prepare for further mutations and should no longer be dependent on the EU for second-generation vaccine production.”
The Danish Prime Minister Frederiksen made a similar statement on Monday. “The European vaccination effort can no longer stand alone,” she said, adding that this is why Denmark and Austria worked together to get more doses.
Other EU countries have turned to Russia and China to close the vaccine supply gaps through unilateral procurement. On Monday, Slovakia granted emergency approval for Moscow’s Sputnik-V vaccine after a delay in delivery of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca shots.
The EMA has not yet given the Sputnik V vaccine the green light. “The [Slovakia] The approval is based on the results of the clinical studies with Sputnik V in Russia and a comprehensive evaluation of the vaccine by experts in Slovakia, “the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which supported the production of Sputnik V, said on Monday.
“We have received numerous requests from EU countries to deliver Sputnik V directly to them based on the reviews of their national agencies,” said Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of RDIF, in a statement. “We will continue to do this and work with EMA based on the rolling review process we started in January.”
Slovakia is the second EU country to independently approve Sputnik V, after Hungary, which began launching the vaccine in February. Hungary is also the first EU country to introduce China’s Sinopharm vaccine, which was not approved by the EMA.
“Vaccination is not a political issue, but a question of effectiveness and reliability,” Hungarian State Secretary for International Communication and Relations, Zoltan Kovacs, told CNN on Monday. “We see that both Chinese and Russian vaccines are used in many places around the world.”
Hungary has also ordered doses of the Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines through the EU, but Kovacs said the bloc’s centralized strategy did not live up to expectations. “Well, it is now obvious and visible that this strategy has failed compared to Britain, Israel and even the United States,” he said.
“The Brussels bureaucracy has not been able to find quick and immediate solutions to the contracts. We are at least two months behind.”
Hungary has long been an outlier in Europe, and its heads of state and government regularly argue with EU leaders over human rights policy. However, Hungary is by no means the only country disappointed with the bloc’s handling of the vaccine rollout.
Czech President Miloš Zeman told CNN subsidiary Prima News on Sunday that his country can introduce Sputnik V if approved by the national regulator. “I wrote to President Putin and asked for the delivery of Sputnik-V. If I am correctly informed, this request will be granted, but of course we need it [medical regulator] Certification, “he said.
“When different people warn us about having a Russian or Chinese vaccine, it is good to tell them that the vaccine has no ideology,” he added.
The breach of the EU’s centralized strategy is taking place amid development within the AstraZeneca vaccine bloc. France previously said it should only be used in people under 65 as there are no clinical data on its effectiveness in the elderly.
But Paris has now extended the upper age limit to 75 years. According to Reuters, there are now fears that the government’s initial critical comments have resulted in lower acceptance of the shot in the country.
Public Health England (PHE) data released Monday suggest that a single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine is highly effective against severe infections and hospitalization in the elderly. The Pfizer vaccine has a similar effect, according to the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed.
Speaking at a press conference on Downing Street on Monday, Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s assistant medical director, said the data “clearly confirmed” the UK’s decision to vaccinate all ages from the start of the rollout process. “I am not here to criticize other countries, but I say that I think that the data emerging from our program will speak for itself in time and that other countries will no doubt be very interested,” added he added.
EU leaders are now focused on getting the bloc’s vaccination campaign going again. “Our top priority now is to accelerate the production and delivery of vaccines and vaccinations across the European Union,” said European Council President Charles Michel last week.
“That’s why we support the Commission’s efforts to work with industry to identify bottlenecks, ensure supply chains and increase production. We want more predictability and transparency to ensure pharmaceutical companies are meeting commitments,” he added.
The bloc now faces a race to roll out the vaccine while maintaining the confidence of nervous member states looking for solutions elsewhere.
CNN’s Lindsay Isaac, Antonia Mortensen, Ivana Kottasova, Chloe Adams, Andrew Carey and Stephanie Halasz contributed to this story.