The EU’s already disastrous vaccine strategy has taken yet another calamitous turn after Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel admitted she is refusing to take a Covid jab.
The extraordinary admission comes at the worst possible time. Germany’s vaccination roll-out is stalling, partly because the EU has not been able to provide enough doses. The other problem is widespread vaccine scepticism which has spiralled out of control following early rumours the Oxford vaccine does not immunise the over-65s.
The rumours have since been resoundingly quashed, but linger on, leading to mass cancellations of appointments at inoculation centres.
Much of the blame is down to France’s Emmanuel Macron who incorrectly claimed the jab was “quasi-ineffective” for pensioners.
And now Merkel is also to blame. Speaking to German newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung she said the Oxford vaccine, manufactured by AstraZeneca was “reliable… effective and safe”, adding that “all authorities tell us that this vaccine can be trusted” with the caveat that it is “recommended in Germany up to the age of 65”.
She then went on to remind Germans they had no choice over whether they received the Oxford jab or the rival Pfizer BioNTech injection.
But when pressed on whether she’d be getting the Oxford jab, Merkel, who has a PhD in Chemistry, completely contradicted herself, saying: “I am 66 years old and do not belong to the group recommended for Astra-Zeneca.”
The over-65s confusion started with an unnamed source in German newspaper Handelsblatt who claimed the Oxford vaccine was only 8% effective for the over-65s. The German health ministry then clarified the 8% figure referred to the relatively low percentage of participants drawn from that age group who took part in clinical trials.
The latest setback comes as EU leaders are set to gather online for a crisis summit today. EU member states are looking to the European Commission for answers after it was revealed yet more orders are likely to be cancelled, while national governments are quickly mobilising PR campaigns to undo the damage done to the Oxford jab’s reputation.
According to Politico, the EU is still looking to ramp up production in Europe after AstraZeneca’s supply chain on the Continent failed to meet production targets, even though, by one commissioner’s own admission, setting up a new factory to manufacture vaccines “usually takes five years”. The Commission says it is looking to boost output at existing sites, but the timeline is still months and months.
The situation is worsened by the member states and the EU pulling in different directions.
“On the coordination, it’s a real difficult matter and we are walking on thin ice on this,” an EU official told Politico. “Because leaders’ main focus is to do the best for their population and the way you do that is subject to differences in member states.”
Germany is not cooperating, having slyly procured extra doses of the Pfizer vaccine for itself in breach of the arrangement with the EU, then receiving a slap on the wrists, along with five other countries, from Brussels this week for closing its borders.
Frustration is mounting. German tabloid, Bild has been praising Brexit Britain. Yesterday’s front page was splashed with the words: “Dear Brits, we envy you!”
Following Boris Johnson’s announcement lockdown measures were gradually being eased, the paper’s editors said: “The English have announced their return to normality on June 21… and here there’s no hope.”