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EU project support at risk over vaccine delay as Belgium jab not staying in country

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Belgium is a headquarters for both European Union institutions and large drug manufacturers. However, coronavirus vaccines made in the country are mainly being shipped abroad, often to the UK and Israel, despite Belgium suffering the same supply chain problems experienced across the EU. The “surreal” arrangement comes despite fears a big reduction in supplies in the first quarter of this year could hit the EU’s ability to meet its target of vaccinating 70 percent of adults by this summer.

As of February 25,  Belgian authorities had provided 4.5 percent of citizens with their first jab, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

This figure put the country of 11 million below the European average.

Belgian political expert Dave Sinardet told Euronews: “It is absurd and a bit surreal that vaccines produced here in Belgium end up more easily in the UK or in Israel or in other parts of the world than in Belgium itself where people have to wait a long time to vaccinated like in other EU countries.”

It comes as French President Emmanuel Macron called on the EU Commission to step up in its efforts to ensure all member states are delivered an adequate number of vaccine doses.

As member states were individually responsible to put orders through for vaccines, some countries failed to secure enough in the early stages of the process.

Speaking after the Council virtual meeting, President Macron said some countries “didn’t want to reserve their entire quota because I think they weren’t convinced that Pfizer or Moderna would be the most efficient [vaccines]”.

He added: “They under-ordered a bit, deliberately, it was a choice these countries made. I believe in solidarity, but it’s up to the Commission to propose a sustainable mechanism that provides clarity, visibility and transparency.”

Slovakia and the Czech Republic are begging bigger EU states for a share of their Pfizer and Moderna vaccines stock, as the bloc still lags behind with its vaccination programme. 

The French Government confirmed the Czech Republic will get 100,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine from France by mid-March on Thursday.

The Czechs have been struggling with resurgent infections in recent weeks and have sought help from allies. The country has had one of the highest COVID-19 rates in the world in terms of infections and deaths per million people.

The Prague government is seeking to toughen lockdown measures and speed up inoculations to ease the strain on hospitals, many of which are operating near capacity.

France said it was examining the requests by hard-hit countries such as the Czech republic to “borrow” doses in March that would be sent back in April via a common EU vaccine procurement mechanism.

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A French presidency official told Reuters: “European solidarity implies that all those who can should step in.”

Hit by supply issues, the Czech Republic is lagging the European Union average in vaccination rates according to the Our World in Data website.

With a population of 10.7 million, it has administered 600,000 vaccine doses, including 226,780 people who have received both shots, according to Health Ministry data.

Mr Babis said the central European country was reaching out to other EU states besides France for vaccines.



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