Austrian health official resigns after vaccine failings

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has come under increasing pressure for his government's handling of the vaccination rollout.
Photo: Alex Halada/AFP
The Austrian health official responsible for ordering coronavirus vaccines has stepped down after failings in the country's purchase of vaccines.

The official in charge of Austria’s purchases of coronavirus vaccines has resigned, the health minister said Monday, days after Chancellor Sebastian Kurz raised concerns about vaccine distribution within the EU.

“Clemens Auer asked me yesterday to relieve him of his functions as vaccine co-ordinator,” Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said in a statement.

The announcement comes three days after Kurz said there had been a lack of transparency surrounding deals between some EU states and vaccine manufacturers.

However, Monday’s statement pointed to problems with the way Austria itself had handled the vaccine procurement process within the framework established by the EU.

Anschober said Auer had “in one concrete case not forwarded information on to me.

READ MORE: Is Austria’s vaccine rollout on track?

“This was the fact that it was possible to order extra doses from a reserve pot made up of doses not used by other member states,” Anschober said.

After Kurz’s intervention on Friday, Austria was joined by the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Latvia in demanding talks among EU leaders to address what they called the “huge” disparities in vaccine distribution.

The European Commission responded by saying in a statement that it agreed “that the most equitable solution for the allocation of doses of vaccines is on the basis of a pro rata of population of each member state”.

However, it went on to point out that EU member states had themselves decided to retain the possibility of “a different distribution of doses, taking into account the epidemiological situation and the vaccination needs of each country”.

“Under this system, if a member state decides not to take up its pro rata allocation, the doses are redistributed among the other interested member states,” it said.

READ MORE: Which Austrian states are vaccinating fastest against coronavirus?

Kurz’s People’s Party (OeVP) then demanded Auer’s resignation for not having made use of this mechanism.

The row has led to tension between the OeVP and their junior coalition partners the Green party, to which Anschober belongs.

As of Monday, official figures show 8.4 percent of Austria’s 8.9-million-strong population have received their first dose of a vaccine.

In Malta, one of the countries singled out by Kurz as having received a much higher per capita number of doses, the equivalent figure is already 18.3 percent.


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