Prime Minister Janez Janša: Today, even those who are not part of the governing coalition got a sense of the dilemmas the government is facing during the epidemic.
As agreed at a meeting between the President and leaders of parliamentary parties on 24 February 2021, the participants at today’s meeting discussed key issues and measures for a successful COVID-19 strategy, including possible proposals for urgently needed systemic changes to the public health system.
After the post-meeting press conference, Prime Minister Janša pointed out that the meeting had been useful and that this event that was usually planned for Wednesday afternoon shifted to the noon of the same day. “The presentations, discussions and resolutions of professional dilemmas of the kind we received today from all the representatives of the parties who attended the meeting are usually addressed every Wednesday afternoon by government representatives who discuss the COVID-19 situation in Slovenia, Europe and beyond, and, in accordance with usual practice and the decision of the Constitutional Court, extend or amend the preventive measures,” the Prime Minister said. He added that today even those who are not part of the governing coalition have gained a sense of the kinds of dilemmas the government has been facing during the epidemic. “An agreement was reached to hold a similar meeting before the possible tightening of measures in the event that the number of infections increased,” Prime Minister Janša said, expressing hope that the numbers would be such that such meetings would not be necessary. “However, an agreement has been reached to meet every month for as long as the epidemic continues,” added Prime Minister Janša.
Based on journalist questions, Prime Minister Janša expressed regret that there were no representatives from the Levica or LMŠ parties at today’s meeting as many dilemmas and issues were solved today.
Regarding for the order for vaccine for Slovenia in December, the Prime Minister said that for most of last year it was considered that AstraZeneca would be the first to manufacture and register a vaccine and that it would be the first one to be approved. “When the first contracts with this company were signed, the European Commission made agreements which primarily formed the basis on which the EU member states decided on this vaccine. Then there were complications during the third phase of testing and the first to be approved was the Pfizer BionTech vaccine,” recalled Prime Minister Janša. He added that this approval coincided with the December European Council, when it was announced, and also with the resignation of the then Minister of Health Tomaž Gantar and the temporary performance of this function by the Prime Minister. “My first reaction when I took over at the Ministry of Health was to instruct all those in charge that it would be possible to order additional quantities of vaccine anywhere and at any time and any cost and to do so whether that was AstraZeneca, Pfizer or any other vaccine, and the Ministry of Health has followed suit ever since. Until that point, AstraZeneca was favoured in Slovenia and elsewhere,” said the Prime Minister, adding that the problem that the member states are facing today would not exist if the company were supplying the vaccines in accordance with the contract, but unfortunately, they are not. “Those countries that have ordered more AstraZeneca vaccines are far behind or below the EU average for vaccination,” the Prime Minister said.
“We ordered the highest possible amount of additional AstraZeneca vaccine in December. This initiative for the European Union to order 100 million additional doses of the vaccine came from the German Minister of Health and we competed as much as we could and we received one million additional doses,” said the Prime Minister, adding that Slovenia was above average for vaccinations in the first quarter.
“We also competed for additional quantities as soon as possible and had approval to receive just under half a million Pfizer doses, but this contract still hadn’t been signed last night,” the Prime Minister said, adding that so far Pfizer is the only company that has adhered to deadlines and deliveries.
Prime Minister Janša also stressed that no EU member state has ordered too few vaccines, and that Slovenia had ordered over 7 million vaccines for 2 million inhabitants. “The problem we have been tackling in recent days is that one of the companies is not supplying the quantities it should,” the Prime Minister pointed out, adding that this company has not suffered any sanctions for its actions. “The key question, therefore, is how it is possible for a company to supply half as much as it committed to in the contract, but nothing happens in this regard, neither consequences nor sanctions. Until this complication is resolved, we have proposed a corrective mechanism whereby the European Commission will, where possible, provide additional quantities of the vaccine to distribute to those member states affected by the non-supply of AstraZeneca vaccine,” he stated, and added that the President of the European Commission had already announced that such supply had taken place.
“Along with my colleagues across Europe, I personally demand that these contracts with vaccine companies be made public to put an end to speculation about what the contracts actually say and to find out why AstraZeneca is not supplying as much vaccine as it should and why no sanctions have been imposed on it. The information is that the contract is bad and that the company is using it for commercial reasons,” said the Prime Minister. He also mentioned that the price of one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine is about 2 euros, and on the market outside the EU, this vaccine is much more expensive. “Colleagues from the Czech Republic have told me that they received a commercial offer of 13 euros per dose of the vaccine, which is more than six times the price,” the Prime Minister said. He also pointed out that if a contract is bad, “someone has to answer for it.” “Due to the situation as it currently stands, we suggest that an additional contract be concluded, even if that means a higher price, because even if it is a few euros more, it is still less than the cost of the measures that have to be taken to curb the spread of the epidemic, the consequences we feel because of the measures and the consequences that are reflected in the hospitals and the number of deaths,” stressed Prime Minister Janša.
The Prime Minister also recalled yesterday’s meeting in Vienna with five European colleagues, where he stressed that he did not imagine a situation where half of Europe’s countries would have 60% vaccination and the other half 30% by the summer, which would mean that half of Europe had ended the epidemic and the other half had not. “This could mean a serious political crisis. As we hold the presidency of the EU Council in the second half of the year, we would like to do this in an atmosphere of optimism and work towards recovery from the epidemic, so we are drawing attention to this problem while it can still be solved,” said the Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Janša added that the six prime ministers were proposing a decision that the European Council would commit itself to providing the EU with enough vaccines to vaccinate 70% of the entire population by the beginning of the summer. “So, as a binding decision, we are proposing something that was already decided in December last year but was not subsequently taken into account due to non-compliance with the contract or because the contract was bad,” said the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister also issued a reminder that European money had been invested in AstraZeneca for the purpose of developing vaccines.
Prime Minister Janša also said that we should probably have reacted faster when it became clear that there were problems with the AstraZeneca vaccine, “but in Slovenia this coincided with a fabricated political crisis, with the overthrow of one party and the resignation of the Minister of Health.”
Asked whether the opposition’s proposals would be taken into account in curbing the epidemic, Prime Minister Janša said that the purpose of the meeting was to acquaint all representatives of the governing coalition as well as those non-governing parts of the political spectrum with the current situation and outlook. “I regret that a quarter of the political spectrum was missing today and that the numbers are not currently known,” the Prime Minister said, concluding that the doors of the governing coalition remain open to the opposition in fighting the epidemic. “With the help of the President of the Republic, we have been able to at least half-satisfy this call for cooperation,” Prime Minister Janša concluded.