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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Vaccine-related corruption across Europe

By: V4 Agency

Inoculation is currently the most important issue, as evidenced by vaccine-related corruption, which has reared its head across Europe. While the EU is struggling with a vaccine shortage, some – placing themselves above others – have secured an early jab. The French president came up with a proposal to transport 3-5 per cent of the vaccines stockpiled in rich countries to Africa.

Numerous investigations have been launched across Europe after many people have received the jab without being eligible for it.

In January, when only health workers were being vaccinated, the fact that many public figures – including former prime minister and current MEP Leszek Miller and a number of actors – got the coronavirus jab out of turn has triggered a general outcry in Poland. The Polish state health insurance company NFZ launched an investigation and deputy Justice Minister Michal Wos announced that he would initiate proceedings against the rector of the Warsaw Medical University (WUM) which, as a designated inoculation hub, has provided out-of-turn jabs.

“I think some may be more afraid than others,” Polish President Andrzej Duda remarked at the time. “It is clearly visible that this type of fear also breeds trickery any many try to put themselves first, if possible. I don’t know the situation of these people in detail, but I’m fundamentally opposed to the idea of people cutting the line to get ahead. We all have to follow the rules,” he said.

FelelĹ‘tlenség a soron kívüli oltás
Getting vaccinated out of turn is irresponsible

Poland is at the forefront of Europe in terms of how many people have received the jab, the spokesman for Polish President Andrzej Duda said….

This case has shown that “the real [political] elite understands that it has responsibilities, not just rights and privileges,” Mr Duda said.

Spain was rocked by a nationwide scandal in mid-January when it emerged that a lieutenant colonel and several other members of the gendarmerie had been vaccinated out of turn. The officer was immediately dismissed by the interior minister. It was later revealed that many officials had received the jab without being eligible, including the head of the defence command centre under the defence ministry, along with several mayors and health councillors.

To set an example, the president of the Valencian Community denied the second dose from the mayors who had had themselves vaccinated out of turn.

The Czech Republic was hit by a similar scandal in mid-January. Pavel Brezovsky, the director of the Czech National Institute of Public Health, was forced to hand in his resignation after it emerged that the institute had inoculated its employees as well as their relatives, who did not belong to any particularly vulnerable groups.

In Hungary the fact that two left-wing mayors had themselves inoculated out of turn has also provoked outrage. The mayors of Gyongyos (a town some 80km east of the capital) and Budapest’s 11th district were not part of any at-risk social groups and, according to press reports, the mayor of Gyongyos also had his wife and his family doctor inoculated.

Imre Laszlo, the leftist mayor of the 11th district of Budapest, admitted that he had been vaccinated out of turn. These politicians considered themselves to be above their constituents, yet they suffered no consequences whatsoever.

In Austria, some mayors and their families have also been inoculated out of turn. One of them provided an explanation similar to the one used by a Hungarian mayor, namely that he did not want the surplus dose to be wasted.

The distribution of vaccines was not a smooth process in Portugal, either. The head of the vaccination task force had to resign in February due to several scandals surrounding the country’s mass inoculation scheme. Some received the vaccine out of turn, while the vaccination process was rather sluggish.

Matters were only made worse when certain vaccination-related irregularities have surfaced in a hospital where task force leader Francisco Ramos was also a member of the board. Many were forced to resign from after the scandal.

One mayor in Portugal is also known to have received an early jab. To explain her move, socialist politician Isilda Gomes said she had volunteered for the vaccine in January, but many were reluctant to accept her reasoning.

In March the out-of-turn vaccination scandal also reared its head in Italy. Citing ‘reliable sources’, the secretary of the Democratic Party stated that he knew of some people who had been inoculated out of turn in the Puglia region of southern Italy. After the politician filed a complaint with police, authorities launched an investigation against the affected hospital’s health workers with management taking concrete steps to further their their immediate dismissal.

Progress is slow in disarray

The Belgian government’s response to the coronavirus-induced health crisis hasn’t been exemplary, either.

Besides the fact that the ordered vaccine quantities were not delivered – potentially delaying the vaccination of people aged over 65 for weeks – there were a number of IT problems too, causing serious notification issues. Some e-mails containing important inoculation dates were classified as spam, some notifications were received too late, and some others have been sent out to deceased individuals.

According to the Belgian daily Le Soir, 1.5 million doses of Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca jabs have been shipped to Belgium, but only 943 thousand doses have been administered, so more than half a million vaccines are still in warehouses. Providing an explaination on why the vaccination is so slow Dirk Ramaekers, the head of Belgium’s operative board, underlined that there were interruptions in both the commissioning of vaccination centres and the delivery of vaccination notifications.

Although the Heysel inoculation hub, a facility capable of administering a thousand vaccines a day, has been opened in Brussels recently, only around two hundred inoculations are administered each day, which is a fraction of its capacity. Sabine Stordeur, co-chair of the vaccination task force, explained the low number by saying that people are vaccinated at the centre based on notifications, but many had not received the messages due to IT problems.

COVID jab should be made mandatory

The situation in several regions of France is becoming increasingly alarming during the third wave of the pandemic. The emergence of new hotspots has forced the government to impose new, stricter restrictions, inculding the introduction of weekend quarantines in some areas. The situation is also exacerbated by the mutant variants. According to Prime Minister Jean Castex, the government will make every effort to vaccinate the entire population as soon as possible. The cooperation of mayors, nurses and hospitals is needed to ensure that the vaccination campaign is conducted at maximum speed, as time is now the greatest enemy, he said.

Szigorítanak az országban, hétvégi karantén azonban nem lesz
Government imposes stricter restrictions, no weekend quarantine

In the country’s most infected departements, stores selling non-essential products will be closed….

The attitude of health workers is also part of the problem. According to PM Castex, only one in three French health workers is currently vaccinated, an extremely low rate. In a bid to change the situation, Health Minister Olivier Veran published an open letter to health workers on Twitter, asking them to change their minds and have themselves inoculated.

According to the health minister, only 40 per cent of those working in nursing homes and some 30 per cent of those serving in other healthcare institutions have been vaccinated, which is not enough, as their inoculation is key in the fight against the coronavirus.

President Emmanuel Macron has plans to go further. According to Le Figaro, he raised the idea at the Defence Council to made the anti-COVID jab mandatory for every doctor, nurse and nursing assistant both in the hospitals and the elderly care homes. The president’s proposal comes as a surprise because, in an interview with Brut’s online media programmme in early December, he said he had doubts about mandatory vaccination, arguing that there’s a lack of total clarity with regards to both the vaccine and the virus.

This means that merely 3 months ago President Macron was of the opinion that making vaccines not fully mapped and known mandatory was counter-productive. Now, however, he appears to be contradicting himself as he is the one pushing to roll out the vaccination campaign to the country’s health workers as soon as possible, even considering mandatory inoculation for healthcare staff.

A poll conducted in February found that the majority of French had doubts as to whether the president and the health minister will deliver on their promise to vaccinate the entire population by the end of the summer.

A lakosság túlnyomó többsége nem bízik a kormányban
Most people have no trust in government

Nearly 70 per cent of the respondents of a survey believe the state won’t be able to keep the promise made by the health minister and the president….

Besides French healthcare workers, their Belgian counterparts are also distrustful of the vaccine, especially the AstraZeneca jab. It is believed to be less effective than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. Sabine Stordeur, co-leader of the vaccination task force, says the attitude is somewhat more favourable in Flanders, where doctors have accepted the AstraZeneca vaccine. She added, however, that in the French-speaking part of the country, doctors still need to be convinced. To this end, authorities are organising webinars and conferences to persuade health workers to accept the jab. If healthcare staff remained reluctant with regard to the inoculation, law enforcement employees would be given preference in terms of the vaccination schedule, Sabine Stordeur explained.

As mass vaccination kicked off in Hungary, the central infrastructure in charge of organising the inoculation ran into a problem, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in a radio interview.

“Now that we’re beginning mass vaccination, we must switch to a data-based system. In a data-based vaccination scheme if the data isn’t right, then nothing’s right. That’s the basis of everything. And sometimes people who have already been vaccinated are being called in for a jab. We’re also receiving reports of people being required to show up at inoculation points way too far from their homes. Therefore, the whole system has to be recalibrated. We made a decision on this, too, this [Friday] morning. Data will have to be reviewed,” PM Orban told Hungary’s public broadcaster on Friday.

He added that the government had set up a separate operational unit to rectify the errors that occured during the organisation of the data-based vaccination plan. Eventually, Hungary rolled out its mass vaccination programme and jumped to second place with regard to the country’s high vaccination rate.

Others more important than their own citizens

The plan that undocumented illegal immigrants could be given priority in the country’s anti-coronavirus vaccination schedule has provoked a general outcry in Sweden.

According to Sweden’s multi-phase vaccination scheme, residents and caregivers in elderly homes were to be inoculated during the first round, while healthcare workers, over-65-year-olds and those who had undergone organ transplantation in the past 12 months were included in the second phase.

The third phase is about inoculating those aged between 60-64 and 18-59 who exhibit serious underlying illnesses.

“In the third phase, others who have an increased risk of severe Covid-19 infection will be offered vaccination, as well as people who have difficulties following advice on infection control measures, such as individuals with dementia, or cognitive or mental functional impairment. This also applies to people who live in socially vulnerable situations, such as homeless people or those without documents,” the immunisation plan says. The plan underlines that vaccination for those coming from the Middle East or Africa is a priority, because of the high fatality figures among them.

The plan has provoked strong criticism from some, as many felt it was unfair that those who have no legal right to reside in the country would be given priority in the vaccination line. Caving in to pressure, Sweden’s Public Health Agency has updated its plan and excluded illegal immigrants from the prioritised groups.

Even though the roll-out of vaccines is not progressing according to schedule in France, President Emmanuel Macron appears to be willing to donate a significant portion of the country’s vaccine supplies to Africa.

In his view, it is unacceptable that Africa is at a disadvantage in terms of access to Covid-19 vaccines and this blatant inequality must be addressed by all means.

The French president put forward the proposal that rich countries should transfer 3-5 per cent of the vaccines they have in stock to Africa, a continent facing vaccine shortages. He argued that this is also in the interests of French and European residents, as more than 10 million French residents have relatives and family members on the other side of the Mediterranean.

Vaccine procurement nearly pushes government into crisis

Vaccine procurement has thrust Slovakia to the brink of government crisis. As a member of the Visegrad Group, the country was hit hard by the pandemic, registering one of the worst mortality rates in Europe. In some cases, coronavirus patients are being transferred to other European countries under the EU’s emergency aid programme.

Amidst the resurgent pandemic, the coalition government made up of four parties disagrees over a number of issues, especially when it comes to vaccines. In February, Za l’udi (For the People), the smallest coalition partner, vetoed the purchase of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. Party President Veronika Remisova has repeatedly stated that she would not vote for the procurement of the Russian jab until the European Medicines Agency approves it. 

V4 country faces imminent government crisis?

The individual procurement of vaccines, which the smallest coalition party has described as a move orchestrated by the premier and the health minister,…

A few days later, however, Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic announced that the country has signed a contract for the Russian jab. Ms Remisova described the purchase of the Sputnik V vaccine as a move orchestrated independently by the prime minister and the health minister. PM Matovic refuted the accusation, saying Health Minister Marek Krajci did receive the party’s consent on the procurement of the Russian jab. In response to the arrival of the first shipment of Russian vaccines MP Tomas Valasek announced that he would leave the coalition, as well as the Za l’udi party.

In a press briefing last week, Igor Matovic drew attention to an interesting point regarding Za l’udi’s protest. Mr Matovic acknowledged that the procurement process has caused tensions in the coalition, but stressed that Marek Krajci had received approval from Za l’udí’s leadership to purchase the Russian jab.

Although Za l’udi rejected the proposal to procure the vaccine at the government meeting, they said “Krajci is free to buy the vaccine if he wanted to since he possesses the necessary competencies,” PM Matovic said, adding that neither Krajci, nor he can be accused of making an arbitrary decision.

Economy Minister Richard Sulik, head of the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party, also criticised the purchase of the Russian jab, saying this is not the right way to run the country. He added that he thought the government should be restructured.

Foreing Minister Ivan Korcok (SaS) also expressed concerns over the Russian vaccine and noted with regret that he had not been informed about the procurement. Korcok said he considered the purchase of the Sputnik V vaccine a tool in Russia’s hybrid warfare. Mr Matovic replied that politicising the issue was completely inadmissible, adding that the Russian vaccine was a medicine, just like any other jab. The president of the Slovak Medical Chamber agreed with the latter statement.


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