Health Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne criticised the EU for potentially causing a vaccine war between member states and other countries as political wrangling continues over the handling of the pandemic. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen threatened a vaccine export ban which has caused huge tensions between countries who have shown opposition to the plans. Despite Europe struggling to keep a lid on the pandemic, Mr Fearne says the vaccine procurement programme has been a success since some Europeans are able to have access to doses.
Speaking to CNBC, Mr Fearne discussed the ongoing vaccine row within the EU and shared his take on the current skirmishes.
The Health Minister was asked: “[If] we take a look at the last EU summit for a moment where Austria was against the idea of giving additional doses coming from Pfizer and BioNTech to the countries that are suffering the most.
“So I would like to ask you if you think that Austria is being selfish here and what would be the compromise for these ten million doses coming from Pfizer and BioNTech?”
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz fought for extra Pfizer vaccines to be allocated to Austria, the Czech Republic and Croatia during the EU summit on March 25.
The countries, which have been affected by the AstraZeneca shortfall, were rebuffed by other member states who questioned why they needed them when there were more stricken countries.
Mr Fearne replied: “First, I have to say that to my mind the joint procurement mechanism – the advanced purchase agreement that we’ve managed to get together as a European Union – has been a success.
“So despite the fact that things could have gone faster, we have had great success.
“The alternative of not having procured vaccines together will be that we would be competing between European member-states and possibly some of us would not even have the vaccine even at this stage.
“So at the moment, yes, the European Union as a bloc isn’t in a good place and you are right some of us are vaccinating faster than others.
“I don’t think now is the time for vaccine wars if anything now is the time for vaccine diplomacy and if there is a race it’s not a race between member-states it’s a race between the vaccine and the virus.”
Some European countries which have diverted away from the EU for vaccine supplies have seen some of the best vaccination rates in the continent.
Hungary and Serbia chose not to rely on the joint procurement programme and instead went directly to manufacturers to secure doses.
Serbia struck up agreements with Russia, China and America for their doses and now have one of the best population vaccine rates in Europe with around two million out of eight million people vaccinated.
The Balkan nation has also begun sharing its stockpiles with neighbouring countries.