Brussels is fighting to maintain solidarity over its pan-EU vaccine plan as evidence emerged of member states breaking away to strike their own deals with suppliers.
Ursula von der Leyen, the European commission president, is contacting the health ministers across the 27 member states for reassurance that they are sticking to the bloc’s joint strategy.
The commission has faced criticism over the amounts of vaccine it has procured for the 27 states, with the president of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, being the latest to voice concern.
Anastasiades has said his government is in talks with Israel over a side deal to bolster his country’s efforts, claiming the EU’s procurement was “not enough for rapid and mass vaccinations”.
His comments followed confirmation in Berlin that the German government had struck a deal with BioNTech/Pfizer for 30m extra doses beyond those agreed through the commission.
On Monday a spokesman for the commission declined to comment on the developments in Germany and Cyprus but disclosed that Von der Leyen was now seeking assurances from the EU capitals.
The spokesman said: “The president has asked [health] commissioner [Stella] Kyriakides to send a letter to all health ministers asking them to provide us with all the necessary transparency in the way in which they are complying with the provisions of our vaccine strategy in terms of contacts, or lack of contacts rather, with with those pharmaceutical companies that we have been or are negotiating with. So this letter is currently being drafted, and will be sent as soon as it is ready.”
Von der Leyen had insisted last week that unilateral efforts would not be in line with the EU’s vaccine strategy designed to ensure that every member state is covered.
“It’s legally binding,” she had said. “We have all agreed, legally binding, that there will be no parallel negotiations, no parallel contracts … We’re all working together.”
The commission has signed off on six vaccine contracts for up to 2bn doses with Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Sanofi/GSK, Janssen Pharmaceutica and CureVac – but only the first two have been approved for use in the bloc, leaving a significant shortfall.
Last week the commission proposed that it buy an additional 200m doses of the BioNTtech/Pifzer vaccine, with the option of a further 100m, to supplement the 300m doses already ordered.
It is hoped the delivery of the first 75m doses of the new order will happen in the first half of 2021, with the rest following in the third and fourth quarters of the year.
The potential shortfall in doses has become caught up in the contest to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor and is increasingly a headache in other capitals.
In Cyprus over the weekend, Anastasiades had told the Politis newspaper that he had opened talks with Israel given the lack of vaccine doses available through the EU plan.
“I have contacted [Israeli prime minister] Mr Netanyahu and asked him to consider supplying a quantity for the Republic of Cyprus. He will explore the possibilities and within days we will have the answer,” Anastasiades said. “I do not think there is such an issue [with the commission]. It is an effort that our country is making in view of the delay in the production of vaccines to speed up vaccination.”
Anastasiades said the commission had focused overly on purchases of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine which is yet to receive authorisation from the European medicines agency despite being the given the green light by the UK regulator last month.