The quiet intervention of two Thessaloniki-born men recently ended up in Europe’s favor, with 300 million additional vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech being earmarked for the Old Continent.
It all started with internal reactions in Germany. German citizens, unhappy with the prolonged quarantine imposed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, started expressing their overall dissatisfaction, and especially at the number of vaccines supplied to Berlin, focusing their displeasure on Health Minister Jens Spahn. The German media talked about negligence on his part and accused him of failing to take the necessary action in time, leaving the country exposed in the face of the pandemic. His political opponents also targeted Spahn, who, it is an open secret in Berlin, is eyeing the chancellery in the post-Merkel era around the corner.
The situation was exacerbated by a statement from Ugur Sahin, CEO of vaccine maker BioNTech, who fanned the flames by saying that Berlin could have bought more vaccines as early as last summer but didn’t. Of course, the argument of BioNTech’s head is immaterial, since during the summer the facts were limited and Europe had already made the necessary preparatory moves for a vaccine, which, let us not forget, was still on the way.
The issue, however, was real. In Germany there was a clear political problem, while the relevant debate had begun in other countries – such as Greece – creating problems for the government. Throughout the “German crisis,” EU Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas was in constant communication with Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen. He had even tweeted in German, responding to the populists’ easy criticism. It was obvious, however, that answers were no longer enough, and action was required, which Schinas eventually undertook.
On January 5, the Greek commissioner reached out to his compatriot from Thessaloniki Albert Bourla. In this first phone call with the Pfizer CEO, he referred him to the president of the European Commission. The next day, Bourla and von der Leyen discussed the possibility of additional doses of the vaccine for the EU. They came to an agreement and von der Leyen made the announcement in an extraordinary press conference on January 8, contradicting Sahin and defending what had been the European policy up until then.
Bourla, while talking at the European People’s Party parliamentary group on January 13, said, “I am not talking to you as Pfizer’s CEO but as a European citizen.” It was a statement he repeated while speaking about the Pfizer-BioNTech agreement last week at the meeting of European ambassadors in Washington organized by the EU Ambassador to the USA Stavros Lambrinidis. The EU will start receiving the additional doses during the second quarter of 2021. They will help the Old Continent cover its entire population, but also supply vaccines to neighboring countries in order to achieve immunity.