Light at End of Long Tunnel? – EU Countries Race to Turn Corner With COVID-19

Written by | Saturday, April 24th, 2021

European countries prepared on Wednesday (21 April) to start using Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine and speed up their vaccination campaigns after Europe’s drug regulator backed the shot and deliveries started trickling in after a week-long pause. Germany’s health ministry said it would start deliveries to federal states for use in vaccination centres shortly and the Netherlands planned to start using it next week. This news comes as French-Austrian vaccine developer Valneva on Wednesday (21 April) announced that it had launched a Phase 3 trial of its candidate vaccine against COVID-19 — the last testing stage before seeking regulatory approval. The main objective of the study is to show the superiority of VLA2001 compared to the AstraZeneca shot two weeks after vaccination, in terms of the level of antibodies that fight the coronavirus, the company added.
Meanwhile, the European Union is weighing legal action against AstraZeneca for missing vaccine delivery promises. Germany and France have reportedly asked for more time to consider the move. Vaccine-maker AstraZeneca, which is already struggling with reports of dangerous side effects, could thus face legal repercussions for supplying too few vaccine doses to the EU. But, an AstraZeneca spokesman said the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company was itself not aware of any legal proceedings and continued to “hold regular discussions on supply with the commission and member states.” Commission spokesman Eric Mamer told journalists in Brussels that “no decision has yet been taken” — despite many EU diplomats pressing at a meeting Wednesday for legal action following the expiry of a deadline for AstraZeneca to formally reply to EU queries. AstraZeneca had been contracted last September to make its “best reasonable efforts” to deliver 180 million doses to the EU during the second quarter of 2021. So far it has delivered just 31 million doses, according to the French news agency AFP.
In Germany, coronavirus vaccinations should be available for all those willing to be vaccinated by June at the latest, German Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Thursday (22 April). He told Germany’s upper house of parliament that he assumes “that we can lift the prioritization in June.” Until now, Germany has been bound by a strict system of priority groups drawn up by the vaccine commission, mostly defined by age. While half of people over 60 in Germany have currently been vaccinated at least once, Spahn hopes that the pace of vaccinations will pick up now, with the number of available vaccines and inclusion of distribution practices increasing. Currently, more than one in five in the population will have received a first vaccination, and by the end of May, that figure will be one in three.
The protracted pandemic has also hit the euro area very badly, as its debt soars to 98% of GDP amid COVID-19 crisis, Eurostat in a new publication on Thursday. Public deficit and debt soared in the EU as governments massively supported their economies to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. Among other striking figures, „the government debt to GDP ratio increased from 83.9% at the end of 2019 to 98.0% at the end of 2020, and in the EU from 77.5% to 90.7%,” according to the report. Greece, which was still reeling from its sovereign debt crisis, had the highest debt in the bloc compared to the size of its economy (205.6%), followed by Italy (155.8%), Portugal, (133.6%), Spain (120.0%), Cyprus (118.2%), France (115.7%) and Belgium (114.1%), Eurostat said.

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