Who bears the political responsibility for not ordering enough vaccine? How does the Federal Republic compare internationally? The most important questions and answers.
It was important to the German Federal Government not to approach vaccine procurement as a national task, but rather across the EU. The EU Commission took over the negotiations with the manufacturers, and the 27 member states ordered together. Two billion vaccine doses were ordered from six manufacturers. This became a problem because up until now only the active ingredient from the Mainz-based company Biontech, which it developed together with the US company Pfizer, has been approved in the EU. The EU ordered 200 million cans from Biontech, later increasing it to 300 million. The US, on the other hand, ordered 600 million cans, and Israel also ordered more than the EU in relation to population size.
According to reports, the EU Commission ordered relatively few vaccines from Biontech, because some member states considered it too expensive. In addition, France had apparently insisted that the French manufacturer Sanofi should come to the train, whose vaccine is not yet ready. The EU could have avoided the now prevailing vaccine shortage if it had, at least from the promising manufacturers, ordered more at risk. This might have resulted in too much vaccine being available and more money being spent than necessary. Measured against the horrendous sums invested in the national economic aid of the EU countries and in the recovery funds of the EU, these sums would have been comparatively small.
At EU level, Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides and Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen are responsible. However, the member states also played an important role in the decisions on vaccine procurement. At the national level, the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel is now in need of an explanation. She has to put up with the question of why a vaccine developed in Germany is only available to a limited extent in her own country, although the manufacturer Biontech was supported by the state.
The rulers have not exhausted all possibilities to provide enough vaccine, complain not only of the opposition and the media, but also some scientists. The fact that Germany opted for a European solution instead of procuring vaccine on its own nationally is considered to be the reason why the country is now behind in international comparison. According to Ugur Sahin, CEO of the Mainz manufacturer Biontech, the EU was initially reluctant to order its vaccine. This surprised him, said Sahin to the “mirror”.
According to a report in the newspaper “Bild”, Chancellor Angela Merkel is personally responsible for ensuring that Germany followed the European path. In the summer, the German Health Minister Jens Spahn wanted to procure around 400 million doses together with France, Italy and the Netherlands. Merkel Spahn whistled back to send a signal that Germany was foregoing national special channels. In a letter available to the newspaper, the health ministers of the four countries regretted that their actions had triggered concerns and asked the EU Commission to take the lead. According to the “Bild” newspaper, Merkel has urged Spahn to take this step. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert denied this on Monday. The vaccination alliance with France, Italy and the Netherlands was designed from the outset to allow all other EU members to participate.
The problem is not the order quantity, but the production capacity at Biontech, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Health on Monday. A different order policy would have made no difference. This statement contradicts the successful example of Israel, where – measured by the population – more Biontech vaccine was available right at the beginning of the immunization campaign and then vaccinated much faster. On top of that, politicians from the governing parties CDU, CSU and SPD also criticized the lack of vaccine, including, for example, the Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder.
According to the Ministry of Health, 1.3 million vaccine doses had been delivered by the turn of the year, but only 265,000 had been vaccinated by Monday. The vaccination must be administered twice, with a time lag, in order to be fully effective. The number of vaccination doses must therefore always be divided by two. In purely mathematical terms, the federal states would have been able to administer the injection to 650,000 people by the turn of the year. The spokesman for the Ministry of Health could not say why not even half as many were vaccinated and referred to the federal states. It is known, however, that every injection against Covid-19 is accompanied by a bureaucratic procedure that costs time. In addition, those entitled to vaccinate report difficulties in getting an appointment because the relevant hotline is overloaded. On top of that, some residents and carers in the generally prioritized old people’s homes did not want to be vaccinated.
Not good, but not catastrophically bad either. In Israel, the world leader, almost 12 percent of the population had been vaccinated by January 1st. Behind them are Bahrain (around 3.5 percent) and Great Britain (around 1.5 percent) at a considerable distance. With a little more than 0.2 percent, Germany is behind the USA (0.84) and China (0.29), among others. In numerous EU countries, including Austria and Italy, an even lower percentage of the population has been vaccinated than in Germany. In Switzerland, the nationwide corona vaccination will not officially start until Monday (January 4th).
Germany is likely to lag behind the currently leading countries for a long time. The vaccine should be available to two million people by the end of January. The UK has already approved the second vaccine, that of the Swedish-British company AstraZeneca. On Monday morning (January 4th) the first patient was vaccinated with it in Oxford. Unlike the vaccine from Biontech and Pfizer, the AstraZeneca product can be stored at refrigerator temperatures; it can therefore be delivered with far less effort. While Great Britain issued another emergency approval, Germany continues to rely on the European Medicines Agency (EMA). This assumes that the AstraZeneca vaccine will be approved in mid-February. The EU could approve the active ingredient from the US manufacturer Moderna in the coming days, which would alleviate the vaccine shortage somewhat. A spokesman for the German Ministry of Health said on Monday that the approval of the Moderna vaccine should be “promptly”.
With the right technique, six instead of five doses can be drawn from a vial of vaccine. The European Medicines Agency EMA would have to approve this, which has not yet happened. In addition, it would appear medically possible to extend the period between the first and the second vaccination.