Matt Atlas

EU Cuts Czech Republic From Extra Vaccine Deal

Austria, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic have been excluded from an EU move to provide millions of extra vaccines to hard-hit member countries, ending bitter negotiations over jab supply that have divided governments.  

A coalition of 24 EU countries on Thursday decided on a “solidarity” mechanism that will provide 2.85m additional doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer jab to five member states: Estonia, Latvia, Croatia, Slovakia, and Bulgaria.

The decision will not give additional jabs to a trio led by Austria after they blocked proposals for redistribution in protest after seeking a higher share.

The negotiations end weeks of divisive horse-trading over how to distribute 10m jabs bought forward from the third quarter to help ease supply shortages as the virus forces new lockdown measures across the EU.  

Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz has been an outspoken critic of the EU’s distribution of vaccines, which is being calculated on a pro-rata basis according to a country’s population. He has demanded a more “equitable” system and accused other countries of making secret deals with pharma giants. During the talks, Vienna angered other capitals by threatening to block a 100m order of extra Pfizer jabs if it could not secure a higher share of the 10m. The gambit ultimately failed and Austria, with its allies in the Czech Republic and Slovenia, were excluded from the final deal. 

“Vienna lost the argument, lost goodwill and lost friends with its antics,” said an EU diplomat. “This episode and the blatant lack of solidarity from Vienna.

In the final agreement, 10m will be distributed to all countries under the pro-rata system. But 19 member states will forgo part of their share to provide additional jabs to five hard-hit countries. Bulgaria will receive an additional 1.1m, Croatia more than 680,000, Slovakia 600,000, Latvia 376,000 and Estonia 41,000. António Costa, Portugal’s prime minister, who holds the rotating presidency of the EU and helped broker the deal, welcomed the decision “which makes it possible to vaccinate at least 45 per cent of the population in each member state by the end of June”, he said. 

The row will deepen splits inside the EU over vaccines supply as governments come under pressure to contain rising infection rates and the union threatens to bloc vaccines from being exported out of the bloc.

Austria has turned to Russia’s Sputnik vaccine to boost its supplies. Kurz on Thursday tweeted that Vienna would place an order for the Russian jab next week. 

Sputnik has yet to be formally approved by the EU’s medicines regulator but is already in use in Hungary.  Countries such as Germany baulked at Vienna’s demands for extra supplies, pointing out that Austria is above the EU average on all vaccination measures.  Meanwhile, the bloc’s eastern and poorer member states have fallen behind richer countries after many bought up large supplies of the cheaper AstraZeneca jab that has been beset by delays.  

The redistribution mechanism was contrived as a way to close the gap and enable all countries to meet an EU-wide target of vaccinating 70 per cent of all adults by the summer.