Hard-hit Czech Republic to receive 100,000 additional Covid vaccines from better-off EU members

Photo: ČTK / Slavomír Kubeš

As the Czech Republic struggles to deal with one of the highest rates of Covid infections and deaths per capita in the world, EU member states have come to its assistance, offering to take over patients from the overburdened Czech health care system and agreeing to send the country an additional 100,000 vaccines to boost the inoculation drive, which is a key factor in bringing the epidemic under control.

“Finally good news! Thanks to the solidarity of the EU we will receive an additional 100,000 extra Pfizer vaccines. We can inoculate faster, when we need it most. Thanks to the Commission, von der Leyen and all member states. We appreciate this greatly“ Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš wrote on Twitter on Wednesday, sharing the news that EU member states had voted to help the three hardest hit members – the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria by re-assigning vaccines which would otherwise have been distributed among member states according to a fair, per-capita mechanism.

Photo: ČTK / Václav Šálek

The extra doses “borrowed“ in March will be made up for in April or May, but the fact that they have been released at a time when the country desperately needs to inoculate the most vulnerable groups of the population amid a raging epidemic is of immense importance.  According to Prime Minister Babis, the deliveries should arrive next week. In addition, three German states have sent the Czech Republic 15,000 doses of Astra Zeneca and Israel has sent 5,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine.

Moreover Pfizer/ Biontech has promised to significantly increase deliveries in the coming weeks, which may help the Czech Republic turn the tide. Health Minister Jan Blatný urged vaccination centres and the four thousand GPs who got involved in the inoculation process this week, to push ahead with vaccinations and not save vaccines for second dose recipients, for fear they will be unable to meet the three week deadline.

Photo: ČTK / Václav Šálek

“I want to appeal to those inoculating not to save vaccines for second dose recipients, I guarantee there will now be enough vaccines for them. We will receive significantly more vaccines in March and April. The target now is for us to inoculate 35,000 people a day in March and 100,000 a day in April.”

The Czech Republic should receive a million vaccines in March within the common EU vaccine procurement mechanism and 2.6 million in April. Whether the country can make the best use of them to curb the epidemic remains to be seen.  It is currently in the last phase of inoculating health workers and people over 80, and has now started inoculating teachers and people aged over 70 but it is lagging behind the EU average. While in the EU 8 out of 100 people have received at least one dose, in the Czech Republic it is barely 6 in 100.

Photo: Mecklenburg County,  Flickr,  CC BY-NC 2.0

At the prime minister’s request, President Zeman has used his influence to try to secure deliveries of the Russian and Chinese vaccines, but the Czech Health Ministry insists on only using vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency. According to Minister Blatný Russia may register its Sputnik vaccine for approval this week.