Spanish blame the EU as jab supply crisis halts roll-outs across Europe

Covid vaccinations in Paris have been suspended as a result of the shortfall facing the entire EU, one of many local and national pauses of the roll-out across the bloc.

Two other major French regions, which along with Paris cover approximately a third of the country’s population, are temporarily stopping vaccinations to conserve stocks. The city of Lisbon has said it will slow down the number of injections. The Portuguese government anticipates a delay of up to two months.

Facing discontent across Spain’s semi-autonomous regions, the government in Madrid has also said vaccinations would be put on hold across the country for ten days. The regions have been told to use available resources as best they can in preparation for more injections when they finally arrive. Blame for the fiasco is aimed squarely at the EU.   

“It is the European Union who negotiates, who signs the contracts, who is in charge of their monitoring and who works for their effective fulfilment,” said the office of health minister, Carolina Darias on Thursday.

Darias’s spokesperson called for the vaccine purchasing process to be put in its “proper value” by the European Commission, reflecting wide discontent with the EU for signing deals with vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer and AstraZeneca late by drawing out negotiations to get the price down.

Securing supply contracts later than the likes of the UK and the US also had the adverse effect of putting Spain and other members of the EU at the back of the queue for life-saving jabs.

“The UK almost certainly paid a lot more. It is no wonder that the manufacturers are prioritising orders on a first-come, first-serve basis, and from countries that pay the full price,” said Wolfgang Münchau, head of think tank, Eurointelligence.

“The price difference is macroeconomically irrelevant. But if vaccine shortages lead to longer lockdowns, the indirect effect of that short-sighted policy will be massive.”

Published figures reveal the EU is paying half the price of the US at $2 per dose. Had they cut a deal earlier, but at a more expensive $4 a dose, the total cost of vaccinating the EU’s 450m citizens would have been $1.8bn. The EU’s coronavirus recovery fund amounts to €750bn.

The EU is facing shortages across the board. With the well-documented pinch on supply from AstraZeneca mirrored by similar issues at Moderna and Pfizer.

On Thursday, the French health ministry said it would be receiving 25% fewer Moderna vaccines. Pfizer has had to stop production to retrofit its Belgian manufacturing facility so that it can eventually deliver more doses.

Amid the ongoing row with AstraZeneca for cutting its supply by 30 million doses, the EU is scrambling to address longstanding issues with vaccine production.

European Council President, Charles Michel has written to EU leaders asking them to help find explore legal powers and “enforcement measures” to fire up production. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will hold a meeting on Sunday with big pharma and other major figures, including the man behind the US’s successful warp speed initiative under President Trump.

But will it be too little, too late? Politico has discovered low vaccine production levels stems from from entrenched scepticism over inoculation. Hence the need for Pfizer to refit a plant, which never had the capacity to meet the massive demand caused by the pandemic.

Similarly, manufacturing partners AstraZeneca brought on board to meet its supply commitment to the EU have not been up to the job, which has led to widespread panic in Brussels this week.

Little wonder then that the latest vaccine developed by US firm Novavax, which recorded 89.3% efficacy during clinical trials is being manufactured in the North East of England.