No German towels in sight: British tourists will have beaches to themselves after EU vaccine fiasco

·3-min read
Visitors wait to receive a dose of the Moderna vaccine at a vaccination site in Luckenwalde, Germany, on February 2 - Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz/Bloomberg 
Visitors wait to receive a dose of the Moderna vaccine at a vaccination site in Luckenwalde, Germany, on February 2 - Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz/Bloomberg
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

British holidaymakers can look forward to having the beaches of southern Europe to themselves this summer – without a German towel in sight – thanks to the European Union's vaccine fiasco, a leading German economist wrote gloomily in Spiegel magazine on Tuesday.

"Germany will be stuck at home when other countries can travel again," Professor Moritz Schularick wrote. "The UK plans to vaccinate 75 per cent of its population by July… Even under optimistic assumptions, it will take Germany three months longer to achieve the same."

There was anger and despondency in Germany on Tuesday after crisis talks between Angela Merkel and vaccine manufacturers made it clear that while Germany should be able to catch up by September, there is no way of ramping up production fast enough to make up the shortages in the next few months.

"We stand by our commitment to offer every citizen a vaccination by the end of summer," Mrs Merkel said after Monday's video summit with the manufacturers, EU representatives and German regional leaders.

But it was left to Jens Spahn, the health minister, to spell out the bitter truth.

"We have hard weeks of shortages ahead of us until April," Mr Spahn told German television. "It can't be done any faster, not even with money."

Cases, deaths and vaccinations, coronavirus world map
Cases, deaths and vaccinations, coronavirus world map

Mrs Merkel's government was prepared to throw money at the problem after the EU's failure to order enough stocks left Germany – the country where the first Western vaccine was developed – facing shortages.

But manufacturers told the politicians they are already producing as fast as they can.

"We depend on the suppliers to provide us with materials," said Professor Ugur Sahin, the head of BioNTech and developer of the Pfizer vaccine. "We don't have anything in store. Everything we produce is delivered immediately."

The talks left many in Germany dissatisfied after the politicians agreed nothing of substance. Mrs Merkel announced they had agreed that Germany needs a new vaccination strategy – but deferred drawing one up until their next meeting. Spiegel dismissed the talks as a "placebo summit".

As details of the talks emerged on Tuesday, it was clear they were testy at times. The manufacturers delivered lengthy presentations on their vaccines, described to the German press by one unnamed participant as "one long advertisement". Another texted: "Blah blah blah. I don't know what I'm doing here."

But tempers started to fray when Stella Kyriakides and Thierry Breton, the European commissioners for health and the internal market, joined the talks.

Markus Söder, the Bavarian regional leader, reportedly lost his temper with the European commissioners, telling them their assurances everything was on schedule did not convince him at all.

At one point Mrs Merkel reportedly had to calm Mr Spahn, telling him: "No emotions here, Jens." But she showed her own frustration when she told a translator not to bother translating Ms Kyriakides' comments because "everybody speaks English here".

"It's not as if she said anything new anyway," someone else is said to have muttered.

Mrs Merkel continues to insist that every German will be vaccinated by September 21, the official end of summer in Germany. But the date probably has more to do with the fact she is stepping down as chancellor after the general elections, set to take place five days later on September 26.

She would dearly like to leave office having guided Germany safely through the pandemic. But, as Bild newspaper asked on Monday: "Is Merkel's legacy at risk from Ursula von der Leyen?"

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