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COVID vaccine: German Health Minister under fire

John Silk
January 6, 2021

In Germany, the blame game over its allegedly slow COVID-19 vaccination rollout is gathering pace. Questions have been raised as to why the world's fourth-largest economy has not been faster in vaccinating its people.

Jens Spahn giving a press conference in Berlin
Jens Spahn stressed that the German vaccine program was proceeding as plannedImage: Michael Sohn/AP/picture alliance

"The truth is that the vaccine is a scarce product worldwide," Spahn said in his first press conference of the year. 

The health minister rejected the notion of delaying the second dose in order to speed up the process after the UK approved such a move last week. Spahn suggested he would await the green light from BioNTech-Pfizer before taking such a measure. 

He also said that Germany is working alongside BioNTech to open a new production site in Marburg, which could be open as early as next month, in order to boost global supplies. 

Meanwhile, Spahn said the German government would acquire 50 million doses of the Moderna vaccine following the European Union's approval of the jab. 

Blame game

The criticism of Germany's allegedly slow vaccine-rollout has been gaining momentum. And attention is now focused on the German Health Minister.

German tabloid Bild on Monday took aim at Chancellor Angela Merkel, suggesting her decision to take the European Union route to distribute the vaccine as a collective had hindered progress.

There had been reports that Health Minister Spahn's determination to order 400 million vaccine doses, as part of an alliance with his colleagues from France, Italy, and the Netherlands in June of last year, didn't go down well with the Chancellor. And, as a result, he was reeled in by Merkel, who has since pleaded with citizens to remain patient as she maintains a unified approach is the way forward in tackling the crisis. 

In the last 48 hours, the blame game has moved towards Spahn, who has faced criticism from both the opposition and members of the CDU's coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD.) The Bild tabloid is even reporting a rift between Spahn and the chancellor.

Lagging behind or well ahead?

After a slow start, the United States, which began its process on December 14 using the BioNTech-Pfizer jab, is now vaccinating almost 350,000 Americans per day.

Israel has inoculated a higher proportion of its population against the coronavirus than any other country in the world:Around 100,000 people on a daily basis — Germany is currently at around 35,000, according to Our World in Data, a scientific collaboration between Oxford University and an educational charity.

Some have argued that Israel gained leverage from the premium it was charged for the vaccine, at around $56 (45€) for each two-shot dose, which is more than double what Germany paid.

The United Kingdom, which became the first country in the West to inoculate its citizens on December 8, has so far vaccinated around three times more people than Germany, though the latter did not start its rollout until December 26.

Nevertheless, Germany is moving ahead much faster than others, particularly its European neighbors. The EU's largest country has provided vaccines for the same number of people as Italy and Spain combined. And France managed to vaccinate just 500 people during the first week of distribution.

The Dutch government has also come under fire over its vaccination plan. The first shots were administered in The Netherlands on Wednesday, some eleven days after the EU gave the green light for the BionNTech-Pfizer rollout to begin, making it the last member state to begin inoculating citizens.

More vaccines are expected to be approved shortly. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) today approved the Moderna vaccine. It is expected that it will be over a month until the British AstraZeneca vaccine, which has already been approved in the UK, gets the green light too.

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