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Scientists believe approval of COVID-19 vaccines is getting closer and governments are already buying up millions of doses from manufacturers. But an investigation by German newspaper Welt am Sonntag found Germany and the EU were significantly behind Britain and the US in securing sufficient supplies.
The approval of a vaccine does not yet mean that it will immediately be available
Germany ministry of health spokesman
It said the US had secured 800 million vaccine doses from six different manufacturers under preliminary contracts with an option for a further 1.4 billion at a later date.
The UK has also signed contracts with six manufacturers for 340 million doses of vaccine to give it a higher per capita quota than any other industrial nation.
In contrast, the European Commission has so far only signed a framework agreement with the British-Swedish group Astra Zeneca for 300 million vaccine doses, with an option for a further 100 million for the EU’s 446 million citizens across the 27 member states.
A Commission spokesman said: “We have already signed an agreement with Astra Zeneca and are working on all fronts to achieve the same with other companies with whom we have already concluded exploratory talks.”
The number of vaccine doses each EU country can buy under these contracts is based on a population key so Germany should have contractually guaranteed access to around 56 million of the doses already promised by Astra Zeneca.
But Berlin has admitted it still remains unclear how the vaccine will be distributed in Germany.
A spokesman for the country’s ministry of health said: “The approval of a vaccine does not yet mean that it will immediately be available for the entire population.”
Berlin’s Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO) said it was working on a recommendation as the basis for a nationwide vaccination programme but according to the Robert Koch Institute there is no specific schedule for the release.
The global scramble to secure enough of the planned vaccines comes as World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned “vaccine nationalism” would slow the effort to end the coronavirus pandemic and called for vaccines to be used fairly and effectively.
Dr Tedros said 78 high-income countries had now joined the “COVAX” global vaccine allocation plan, bringing the total to 170 countries, and the “number is growing”.
He urged others to join by the September 18 deadline for binding commitments.
Joining the plan guarantees those countries access to the world’s largest portfolio of vaccines, with nine candidates currently in the pipeline, he said, adding that a further four were “promising”.
The WHO and the GAVI vaccine alliance are leading the COVAX facility, aimed at helping buy and distribute vaccination shots fairly around the world.
But some countries, including the USA, have secured their own supplies through bilateral deals and will not join COVAX.
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Dr Tedros said: “Vaccine nationalism will prolong the pandemic, not shorten it.
“If and when we have an effective vaccine, we must also use it effectively.
“In other words, the first priority must be to vaccinate some people in all countries, rather than all people in some countries.”
WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said: “Certainly by the middle of 2021 we should start to see some vaccines actually moving into countries and populations.”
More than 27.19 million people have been reported to be infected by coronavirus around the world with the global death toll standing at 888,326.
Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.
(Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg)
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