After weeks of stalemate, most ambassadors in Brussels have finally reached an understanding for the distribution of the 10 million extra doses that Pfizer will deliver in advance between April and June. Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia and Slovakia will receive a proportionally higher percentage as a “significant expression of solidarity”, taking into account the delay in the delivery of vaccines from AstraZeneca and the national vaccination process.
It is a kind of defeat for Austria, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, who also wanted to be in this group and who have contested the distribution of vaccines. The three countries put their foot down during the negotiation, blocking the process, and ended up on the sidelines of the agreement. Even so, they will receive more than most, remaining out of the solidarity effort supported by the remaining 19 Member States, who will receive fewer doses. Portugal has about 161 thousand doses instead of 230 thousand.
According to a statement from the Portuguese presidency, which led the negotiations, 19 Member States receive “the pro-rata” of 6.66 million vaccines according to the population of each. The three contesting countries will receive the “pro-rata” of 10 million (that is, of the total doses). And the five most delayed in vaccination receive the “pro-rata” of 10 million and still share among themselves (also according to the population) more than 2.8 million doses.
It may not be enough to satisfy the Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, who continues to criticize the distribution. However, as far as Expresso was concerned, neither Austria nor any of the other two countries can legally demand more doses than those due in the “pro-rata” distribution, that is, they cannot demand more than the equivalent of percentage of the country’s population (“pro-rata”).
Exposed divisions (and a credit to the presidency)
The distribution process of these 10 million doses (which add up to another 190 million already contracted) exposed even more the differences of recent times regarding the distribution of vaccines. According to diplomatic sources, the past few days have been very tense in terms of the tough negotiations on European money. The difference is that this time the leaders delegated the headache to the ambassadors.
The formula for understanding was found by the Portuguese presidency, which chose to bypass the three opposing countries. By proposing that they receive doses in the exact proportion of the population, he removed the blocking power. A strategy supported by the interpretation of the Council’s Legal Services.
In an initial version of the proposal, the distribution for Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovenia was calculated in the same way as the majority, offset by an extra specific quantity for Prague. In the end, they do not receive below the pro-rata, but neither do they receive more.
In a statement sent to the press, Kurz says that the 199,000 doses that Austria will receive are “a solid result”, but that “it is incomprehensible that the Czech Republic, a neighboring country of Austria, with a high and continuous number of cases and deaths, does not receive the vaccination doses it would need to balance the imbalance “, justifying that” this is also the reason why Austria , Slovenia and the Czech Republic rejected the proposal for lack of solidarity “.
“Austria will now consult other Member States on how to support the Czech Republic bilaterally, in the spirit of European solidarity”, Kurtz writes, in a criticism of the solidarity mechanism designed by the others. What it does not say is that if the Czech Republic had accepted the initial proposal instead of opting for the blockade, it would have had more doses than it did.
There was no consensus but there ended up being an agreement by a kind of qualified majority or an agreement to 24. The negotiation receives praise from other delegations. To Expresso, a diplomatic source from a Nordic country says that “magic was done” and that “credit is due” to Portuguese diplomats, taking into account the difficulties on the table.
A source from another Member State reports “this will be remembered as one of the greatest successes of the Portuguese presidency” and that “Portugal has done a very good and effective job in forming a vaccination solidarity alliance in 24 countries”. He adds that it was “a very difficult task”, given “the obstructionist approach and constant threats of veto from Austria”, but that the result – more vaccines for the five most needy countries – “proves that the Portuguese strategy was right”.
It remains to be seen whether Austria, Slovenia and the Czech Republic will stop here or take any further steps in the contest.
Group immunity in June / July
The ultimate goal of the negotiation was to ensure that all countries arrive at the end of June with enough vaccines to vaccinate at least 45% of the total population, in order to reach 55% -60% during the beginning of the third quarter (the equivalent of 70% of the adult population), which is the objective outlined by the European Commission for group immunity.
In fact, according to a Council working document to which Expresso had access, Portugal should reach 57% of the total population (more than 5.8 million people vaccinated) by the end of June, taking into account the number of doses you will receive.
The forecast places Malta among the most advanced in achieving immunity, with 94% of the total population vaccinated by the end of the second quarter. The Netherlands is expected to reach almost 65%, Germany to 61% and Denmark to 79%.
Bearing in mind that last year the leaders agreed on an equitable distribution of vaccines, according to the population of each country, what justifies the divergences? In distribution, the problem was that not all countries ordered the percentage to which they were entitled.
The most delayed are precisely those who bet on buying fewer doses of Pfizer and more of Astrazeneca (the cheapest), now suffering doubly with the delays in the deliveries of the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company. Who benefited were the countries that acquired the doses passed by others, such as Denmark, Germany, Malta or Sweden.
Kurtz has been one of the most vocal, criticizing and blaming Brussels for a hitch in the orders that was Vienna’s responsibility. When Pfizer made itself available to deliver 10 million this quarter, which was only for the end of the year, the Austrian Chancellor saw room for a compensatory redistribution.
However, the compensation criterion benefited only those countries that did not even order 75% of the Pfizer “pro-rata” to which they were initially entitled. Austria actually ordered an important share (91%). Certainly it was less than Portugal (97.7%) or Spain (99.2%), but it was much more than Bulgaria (46.6%), Cyprus (46.1%) or Latvia (41%) .
Forecasts point to Austria vaccinating around 51% of the total population by June, Slovenia vaccinating 52% and the Czech Republic 44.6%.
As for the distribution agreement now reached, this is an extraordinary understanding (one off) and without an example. As for the doses now anticipated for these five countries, so that they do not fall behind, they must then be discounted in the last quarter of the year.
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