Merkel meets with state premiers to discuss vaccine programme improvements
Chancellor Angela Merkel met with the federal states on Monday to discuss if improvements could be made to Germany’s vaccination programme. The chancellor has warned that more vaccinations may be needed in the coming years as new variants of coronavirus emerge.
Improving Germany’s vaccination programme
Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Germany’s 16 state premiers on Monday, to discuss improvements to the country’s vaccination programme. After the so-called vaccine summit, which was also attended by representatives of vaccine manufacturers and the European Commission, Merkel announced that a “national vaccination plan” had been proposed by the federal and state governments, aimed at hastening Germany’s vaccination efforts.
Merkel explained that there are several factors which have contributed to Germany’s beleaguered vaccination programme, including limited production capacity and the fact that the EU had spent a lot of time negotiating on liability issues, as well as choosing not to sanction the emergency approval of vaccines.
The chancellor also reiterated her government's promise to offer everybody in Germany a vaccination against coronavirus by the end of this summer. Despite the recent delays that have plagued Germany’s vaccination efforts, Merkel said that the government has received reassurances regarding the supply of vaccines that will arrive every quarter. She said that the vaccinations will be available to everyone, even if Johnson & Johnson and CureVac didn’t receive approval for their vaccines. Should these pharmaceutical companies receive approval, there will be an even larger supply.
Politicians criticise the government response
Monday’s summit has drawn criticism from a number of prominent politicians. Anton Hofreiter, parliamentary group leader for The Greens, said that the “summit exposed the government's failings,” and called for the government to issue a price guarantee for all vaccines. The parliamentary leader of The Left, Dietmar Bartsch and FDP chairman, Christian Linder, also criticised the meeting, with Bartsch citing the need for a clear plan to lead Germany out of its “vaccination disaster.”
Eugen Brysch, a board member at the German Foundation for Patient Protection, denounced the meeting as an “increase in the non-binding.” Markus Jerger, Federal Managing Director of the BVMW business association, said, "The vaccination summit was by no means a summit, but the valley of non-commitments. Neither a binding exit strategy nor a clear timetable for easing the restrictions on freedom for businesses and citizens is visible."
Vaccines may be needed “for years to come”
Chancellor Merkel also explained after the meeting that coronavirus vaccinations may continue to be needed in the coming years. "It's similar to the flu vaccine, where you re-vaccinate against the new mutation of the virus every time," she said. If the current vaccines don’t work on the virus, the chancellor said, “we will start all over again.”
For now, Health Minister Jens Spahn said that Germany needed to curb its expectations when it comes to the vaccines. Spahn asserted that, in reality, there would be vaccine shortages for several more weeks and that progress would be made in the second quarter of the year. He conceded that the purchasing, the production and scheduling of vaccinations are all areas which could be improved upon.
Pfizer and BioNTech have promised to deliver up to 75 million more vaccine doses to the EU in the second quarter of 2021, with the companies planning to produce around 2 billion doses by the end of the year. A German company called Bayer is also set to ramp up production of a vaccine through its partnership with CureVac. “Following discussions with the German government, it has become clear that current manufacturing capacities for vaccines need to be increased, particularly for potential variants of the SARS-CoV-2 [COVID-19] virus," said Stefan Oelrich, president of Bayer’s pharmaceutical division.
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