Social minister: European Union has fallen behind in vaccine race

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Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center). Source: ERR

Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center) said the European Union has fallen behind in the race for vaccines after receiving the minimum number of doses from pharma developer Pfizer at the end of 2020. He added that a way to fill the gaps must be agreed upon in the new year.

Denmark has received an additional quantity of 38,000 doses, Finland another 40,000. Why does Estonia only have 9,700 vaccine doses and why have we not gotten more?

We knew from the beginning that the first quantity was equal and the next ones would be based off the size of the population, as the first shipment (9,700 doses - ed.) was too small for the population of larger countries. They have indeed received another shipment. Now, each week, more will be sent out based on population size. We are expecting another shipment in the first days of the week.

A vaccine from Moderna should receive a sales permit in the coming days, has there been an agreement made for distribution?

There is no distribution plan yet. Taking things into consideration, the Moderna vaccine should receive a permit at the start of the week. After that, a distribution plan between [EU] member states will follow. Generally, the logic has always been based on population size, meaning it will be distributed proportionally. The exact consumption quantities must still be agreed upon. Estonia has ordered 234,000 doses for 117,000 people. Our desire is to receive them as quickly as possible, the question is in the production capacity and their own supply.

But what are the capacities we are talking about when it comes to Moderna?

We are speaking of a primary contractual plan when it comes to Moderna. After joining the pre-purchase agreement, there was talk of being capable of ordering some 30,000 doses in the first quarter. We certainly hope the number to be bigger, but it will depend on what the company offers up to the European Commission after receiving a sales permit. But we will receive a number based on our population, there is no mistreatment of smaller or larger countries.

After Pfizer received a sales permit, it told member states that if they agree to a smaller quantity at first, additional shipments will come faster and in larger form. Estonia stayed true to their 40,000 doses. Will that pay us back?

Our desire was to receive a month's shipment at a time, currently, we are getting 10,000 a week, which will likely go up some. But our preference would have been to receive a month's supply, as then it would have been easier to begin vaccinations. In discussions between member states, the developer and the European Commission, an agreement was made that there will be weekly shipments. My personal preference would have been a bit different and I expressed so during discussions.

Why has Estonia decided to leave half of the received vaccines in supply for the second injections? Do we not trust Pfizer and the distribution plan?

The question is that supply schedules have changed so much, different quantities, even the doses taken out from vials has changed. They were speaking of five doses at first, now six, we will see what the agreement will be. Meaning, we must assure the people waiting on a second injection that there is a second injection.

If we see that supply is working and tomorrow's will be here on time, it is moving toward Estonia as of today (Sunday - ed.), then we can certainly begin vaccinating at a broader scale, will not have to put 50 percent aside, but leave a certain amount in reserve. We have made a primary Excel table, a distribution plan, of how much should we have in our reserves if some shipments are delayed. But we will certainly not put 50 percent of received shipments aside going forward.

Many EU member states are growing anxious as vaccinations are in full swing in Great Britain and Israel, there have also been doubts that perhaps the pharma developers are not fulfilling their end of the contracts.

If we are speaking about Pfizer, then that contract was made from the fourth quarter of 2020 until the third quarter of 2021. During those four quarters, the company had to supply Europe with the quantities. The main contract was 200 million doses, Estonia's part was 600,000. We know now that minimum amounts came in at the end of the year and can now say that there is a certain debt in the air. Our desire is that the base contract would be fulfilled as soon as possible and not just at the end of the contract period. Ideally in the first quarter of 2021.

Do I understand that Pfizer has fallen in debt to Europe and has sold their vaccine to a higher bidder instead?

I do not have such information. Our knowledge was the initial distribution plan and agreements, but the sales permit came later than Pfizer initially predicted, so fulfilling the contract was delayed. There is an agreement currently that 80 percent of the quantities from the end of 2020 and the first three months of 2021 must be filled by the end of the first quarter. Our aim is 100 percent, more than that would be even better.

Are there talks in Europe on how to better establish the EU in contracts?

There are many debates on the topic on the level of health ministers, social ministers and medicine agencies. We have to honestly admit, as of now, the EU is clearly behind in the race for vaccinations among larger blocks and the question is now - how can that gap be filled in 2021?

We must also consider that the European Union, along with Estonia, is among the faster vaccinators as most of the world does not have access to vaccines yet. That we have access to a working vaccine in Estonia is thanks to us belonging in the EU, there is no question.

Has there been discussion of establishing sanctions so that Pfizer would hold up their end of the agreement?

If the company says it has difficulties producing because the quantities of the first shipments have been smaller, it is hard to improve that by establishing sanctions. The goal is for production capacities to increase.

We know that there are discussions of creating new production units in Europe, giving an opportunity to fill both the base contract and additional contracts on the table now.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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