Europe's Covid-19 'hotspots' to be sent four million more vaccine doses
The European Union will receive an extra four million BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine doses over the next two weeks to be deployed to Covid-19 "hotspots", European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.
The delivery -- over and above already agreed supplies from the vaccine-maker -- will go to affected border regions within the bloc to "help ensure or restore free movement of goods and people", she said in a statement.
The announcement came as the commission attempted to persuade at least six member states -- including her home country Germany -- to lift virus-related border restrictions deemed by Brussels to be excessive.
It also follows a trip by the leaders of Austria and Denmark to Israel toform a vaccine-producing alliance that exemplified broad criticism of the lack of deliveries so far under the commission's pre-purchasing scheme.
Von der Leyen said the four million extra BioNTech/Pfizer doses will be delivered "before the end of March" and will help member states deploy "their targeted use where they are most needed, in particular in border regions".
She said they would go to "tackle aggressive variants of the virus and to improve the situation in hotspots".
Von der Leyen pointed to steep rises in infections and hospitalisations in Austria's Tyrol region, France's Nice and Moselle regions, Bolzano in Italy, and parts of Germany's Bavaria and Saxony regions.
Those had led to "stringent measures" by some member states "and even in certain cases to impose new border controls," it said.
The statement pointed out that BioNTech/Pfizer's mRNA vaccine was showing itself to be "highly effective" against the new variants.
It added that the four million extra doses would be made available for member states to buy according to their population size.
Von der Leyen called the additional agreement "quick and decisive action" on the part of her commission, and emphasised that restoring freedom of movement within the EU was "key for the functioning of health systems and the Single Market".
Ireland's Prime Minister Micheal Martin hailed von der Leyen's announcement, saying it would mean an additional 46,500 BioNTech/Pfizer doses for his country.
"When they get here, they will be administered quickly," he tweeted.
The Netherlands' Deputy Prime Minister Hugo de Jonge tweeted that the extra delivery would mean 169,000 more doses of that vaccine for his country.
France's European affairs minister, Clement Beaune, said the agreement meant "nearly 600,000" extra doses for his country.
EU industry commissioner Thierry Breton, who heads a task force to clear vaccine production bottlenecks, said on Tuesday -- before von der Leyen's announcement -- that the bloc was expecting delivery of 55 million doses of different vaccines in March.
Von der Leyen has said that deliveries would jump to 100 million doses per month in April, May and June. Her goal is to have 70 percent of adults in the EU fully vaccinated by mid-September.