The EU 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 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 von der Leyen’s 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 to form 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 and even in certain cases to impose new border controls,” it said.
The statement noted 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 on pro-rata basis 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”.