The European Commission on Saturday defended its policy of distributing COVID-19 vaccines evenly across the block after Austria and five other Member States complained that the doses were not distributed equally.
In a joint letter to the Commission and the European Council, leaders of six European countries, including the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Latvia and later Croatia, called for discussions on vaccine distribution.
The Commission replied that the doses were distributed in proportion to the population of each country and taking into account epidemiological data, adding that it was up to the governments of the Member States to decide how they would be divided.
A flexible policy agreed by EU governments meant that countries facing a more acute phase of the epidemic could have access to more doses, if some governments chose not to address their pro rata distribution, said the EU head in a statement.
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“It would be up to the Member States to find an agreement if they wanted to return to the pro rata basis,” it said, adding that it supported a distribution method based solely on a proportionate population in each EU nation.
The Commission has been criticized for the bloc’s slow deployment of vaccines, although EU governments play the most important role in buying vaccines and in vaccination plans.
On Friday, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that vaccine doses were not evenly distributed among Member States despite an agreement within the bloc to do so according to the population. He blamed, without presenting evidence, separate deals between the EU Vaccination Board and pharmaceutical companies.
The letter from Kurz and his colleagues, addressed to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, called for “a European solution”.
“In recent days … we have discovered that … deliveries of vaccine doses by pharmaceutical companies to individual EU Member States are not carried out on equal terms according to the proportional population key,” the letter, published in the Austrian media, said.
“We therefore urge you, Charles, to hold a discussion on this important issue among the leaders as soon as possible.”
Malta is about to have three times more vaccine doses in relation to the population at the end of June than Bulgaria, says Kurz.
The letter did not mention the steering group, which is the body that negotiates vaccine trades with companies on behalf of EU states. The Deputy Chairman of the Board is Austrian.
Opposition parties have accused Kurz of trying to divert the blame for the slow pace of vaccinations. The Social Democrats said he was looking for “scapegoats for his failure”.
An EU official said Michel had received the letter and that a summit had already been scheduled for March 25 and 26.
“COVID coordination will again be addressed by the 27 members during that meeting,” the official said without specifying whether it included vaccine distribution.
Michel’s office declined to comment.
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