Austria, Slovenia and the Czech Republic have been excluded from an EU initiative to deliver millions of additional vaccines to hard-hit member countries, ending bitter jab supply negotiations that have divided governments.
A coalition of 24 EU countries agreed on Thursday on a “solidarity” mechanism that will provide 2.85 million additional doses of the BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine to five member states: Estonia, Latvia, Croatia, Slovakia and Bulgaria. The move won’t give an Austrian-led trio any further blows after blocking redistributive proposals in protest after seeking a higher share.
Negotiations end weeks of horse trade that divides on how to distribute 10 million jabs purchased from the third quarter to help ease supply shortages as the virus imposes new lockdowns in the EU.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has sharply criticized the distribution of vaccines by the EU, which is prorated on a country’s population. He demanded a more “fair” system and accused other countries of making secret deals with pharmaceutical giants.
During the talks, Vienna angered other capitals by threatening to block an order for an additional 100m jabs from Pfizer if it could not secure a higher 10m share. The bet ultimately fell through and Austria, along with its allies in the Czech Republic and Slovenia, was left out of the final deal.
“Vienna has lost the argument, lost its goodwill and lost friends with its antics,” said a European diplomat. “This episode and Vienna’s glaring lack of solidarity will not be easily forgotten.”
In the final agreement, 10 million will be distributed to all countries on a pro-rata basis. But 19 member states will forgo part of their share to provide additional blows to five hard-hit countries. Bulgaria will receive an additional $ 1.1 million, Croatia more than 680,000, Slovakia 600,000, Latvia 376,000 and Estonia 41,000.
António Costa, Portuguese Prime Minister, who holds the rotating presidency of the EU and helped negotiate the agreement, welcomed the decision “which makes it possible to immunize at least 45% of the population of each Member State of here at the end of June, ”he said.
Dispute will deepen divisions within EU over vaccine supply as governments come under pressure to contain rising infection rates and union threat to block the export of vaccines out of the block.
Austria already has turned to Russian vaccine Sputnik to boost its supplies. Kurz tweeted on Thursday that Vienna will place an order for the Russian jab next week. Sputnik has not yet been officially approved by the European medicines regulator, but it is already in use in Hungary.
Countries like Germany backed down from requests for additional supplies from Vienna, stressing that Austria is currently above the EU average on all vaccination measures.
Meanwhile, the eastern and poorer member states of the bloc have fallen behind richer countries after many sourced large supplies of cheaper AstraZeneca which suffered from delays.
The redistribution mechanism was designed as a way to close the gap and enable all countries to reach an EU-wide target of vaccinating 70% of all adults by the summer .