The uneven distribution of Covid-19 jabs across the EU could cause lasting damage to some member states, the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said, as leaders met to discuss the bloc’s troubled vaccine rollout.
“If no solution is found here it could cause damage to the European Union the likes of which we have not seen in a long time,” Kurz told a news briefing on Thursday ahead of the summit.
The chancellor – a vocal critic of Brussels’ vaccine policy – is spearheading a campaign by several eastern nations to address the huge variations in the rollouts of the EU’s 27 member states.
Data shows that Kurz’s Austria has vaccinated 13.4% of adults, while Malta leads the EU with 21.5%, yet in eastern nations Bulgaria and Latvia only around 5% have had the jab – the bloc’s lowest figures.
Earlier this month Kurz and his counterparts in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Latvia and Croatia wrote an open letter to the European Commission and the European Council, calling for talks to address the inequalities.
Brussels claims doses have been distributed according to member states’ population sizes, but Kurz alleges secret deals have taken place between the EU’s vaccination steering board and pharmaceutical firms.
The chancellor’s political opponents have accused him of trying to draw attention away from what they see as his administration’s failure to purchase as many doses as Austria was permitted to.
He has blamed Austria’s envoy to the steering board, who has since been withdrawn.
Earlier in March, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen threatened to impose export controls on vaccines leaving the EU to make up for short supplies among its member states.
On Thursday she said the bloc has exported 77 million doses to 33 countries since December 1 last year.
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