The European Union begins on Sunday vaccination of its population against the coronavirus. At the same time, the strong symbolic gesture conceived by the European Commission (EC) - a single day for the start of vaccination throughout Europe - turned out to be blurred: first, by the realities of logistics of the first EU-certified vaccine from the BioNTech concern, Pfizer, which must be stored at minus 70 degrees; and then the political ambitions of a number of European politicians.
As a result, the actual timing of the start of vaccination was scattered in different countries from December 26 to the first week of January.
At the first stage, each of the 27 EU countries will be able to vaccinate less than 5 thousand people from priority populations. Mass vaccinations will not begin until spring.
Together, but not simultaneously
In Germany, Hungary, and Slovakia, the first vaccinations were given on December 26th. France, Austria, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Lithuania, and Estonia have scheduled their national vaccination campaigns to begin on December 27.
On December 28, the first injections will be given in Belgium, Luxembourg, and Latvia, and on December 30 in Ireland. The Netherlands and Finland have decided not to speed up the start of vaccination, but to start the process as usual in the first week of 2021.
Another symbol of European solidarity in Brussels is the fact that the EU countries (regardless of population) received the same first batches of vaccine - 9,750 doses each. This figure does not carry any semantic meaning: the entire volume of vaccines that they managed to produce was simply divided among all the countries of the community.
In other words, at the first stage, each of the EU countries will be able to vaccinate less than 5 thousand people. The priorities for all countries are approximately the same: the first category of citizens who will receive vaccinations against COVID-19 (a disease caused by a coronavirus) will include residents of nursing homes and medical staff. The widespread voluntary vaccination of the population of the EU country is not expected to begin earlier than April 2021, when a sufficient supply of vaccines will be created.
Pfizer's main vaccine production center in Europe is now a pharmaceutical plant in Belgium in the town of Pur, near Antwerp. From here, refrigerated trucks deliver insulated containers with the vaccine to neighboring European countries or send them by transport planes to more distant lands.
Bureaucracy on steroids
вЂњIt's time to turn the page in 2020. The EU is starting vaccinations to keep our 450 million citizens safe. Here is a true European success story,вЂќ European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted, commenting on the start of vaccination.
In order to have time to launch this process by the end of 2021, the European Commission has shortened the Pfizer vaccine certification process to several weeks, which would normally take about six months. However, according to the official representative of the European Commission Stefan De Keersmaker, "the certification procedure was not reduced or simplified, it was carried out in full."
The EC spokesman explained that, contrary to usual practice, Pfizer provided European regulators with vaccine clinical trials data as soon as they become available, and then all information was immediately processed. Meanwhile, as usual, the company would have to complete all stages of clinical trials and only then submit a full package of documents for certification to the European Medicines Agency.
Thanks to this parallel procedure, Pfizer's vaccine was admitted to the EU market on December 21st.
The official cost of the vaccine for the EU countries is still a trade secret. The contract, which the European Commission signed with BioNTech - Pfizer, provides for the delivery of 200 million doses of vaccine to the EU countries by September 2021. However, the EU countries themselves will pay for the vaccine from their own budgets. In early December, Belgium's government health secretary, Eva De Blecker, accidentally tweeted a price of 12 euros per dose. The European Commission categorically refused to comment on this leak, citing the confidential nature of the contracts.
The final cost of vaccination for EU citizens will be determined by each country independently, depending on the health insurance systems. Many countries have already announced that vaccination will be free of charge for the population.
EU vaccine portfolio
To date, the European Commission has signed six contracts for the pre-order of vaccines. In addition to BioNTech - Pfizer, contracts have been signed with AstraZeneca, Sanofi - GSK, Johnson & Johnson, CureVac, and Moderna.