Tuesday

2nd Mar 2021

EU leaders to discuss vaccine roll-out this month

EU leaders will discuss the vaccine roll-out before the end of January, European Council president Charles Michel said on Tuesday (5 January) after he met with Portuguese prime minister António Costa, whose country took over the EU's presidency this month.

"Before the end of January there will be a video conference of heads of state of government, so once again we can focus on the management of the Covid-19 crisis and the roll-out of vaccines," Michel said.

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EU leaders regularly held video conferences during the pandemic to coordinate efforts, but countries and the EU have in recent days been caught up in a blame-game over the sluggish roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccines.

EU countries have been lagging behind in the rate of vaccination compared to the UK, Israel, and the US.

One of the reasons is that the EU regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gave its approval only to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine - later than authorities in the UK, Israel, and the US.

EMA is set to approve of the Covid-19 vaccine produced by US firm Moderna in the coming days.

Another reason is the varied rate of distribution. Germany received 1.3 million doses by the end of last year and vaccinated over 300,000 people as of Tuesday.

The EU has signed contracts with six vaccine producers for 2 billion doses, and the EU Commission said on Monday that it was in discussions with Pfizer/BioNTech to secure more doses beyond the 300 million covered by the current contracts.

"We cannot vaccinate if we haven't yet received the vaccines," Costa said in his remarks.

The Portuguese PM also said he was "very hopeful" that EMA can approve the vaccines it is currently examining.

"We also know that no vaccination will be approved unless it is considered safe, and we need to feel safe when we are vaccinated," he added.

He said that vaccines were also needed for a solid economic recovery.

The Portuguese EU presidency will oversee the next six months in the bloc, during which national parliaments need to approve legislation allowing the commission to borrow money on the markets for the recovery fund, and EU countries submit their national plans to tap into the €750bn reservoir.

Costa said vaccinating all Europeans was an unprecedented effort.

"I understand the anxiety. We are all sick of this threat we have been facing, Covid-19, but think back to a few months ago, when people said it was impossible to have a vaccine soon but look at us now," he said.

Portugal began vaccinating the elderly on Monday, but most of the vaccines will be administered in the second and third quarter of 2020, and the vaccination plan will go into early next year, Costa warned.

"We all need to be aware that the discovery of the vaccine, the production, its acquisition, its distribution and then the administration of the vaccine cannot be done in a single day, it is a process," he said.

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