Despite supply problems, vaccination pace will increase significantly in February and March / AstraZeneca must adjust plans and meet supply commitments / Fourth vaccine (Johnson & Johnson) in sight in the short term

"As difficult as it is, we all need to be very disciplined for a few more weeks now to stop the spread of the mutated virus in the European Union," said health spokesman for the largest group in the European Parliament (EPP, Christian Democrats) Dr. med. Peter Liese. Liese welcomed Belgium's decision to ban unnecessary travel and France's decision to allow entry only with a high-quality PCR test."Travel unfortunately promotes the spread of the virus and therefore unnecessary travel should definitely be stopped now. Further measures to spread risk contacts are also needed. The explosion in numbers in the UK, Ireland and Portugal must be a warning to us all," said the CDU MEP and physician.

Despite the publicized supply problems at vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca, Liese believes that there will be a significant increase in the number of people vaccinated in the EU in February and March. "AstraZeneca's announcement to reduce the planned supply for the EU from 80 million to 31 million doses in the first quarter must not and will not be the last word. AstraZeneca has been contractually obligated to produce since as early as October and they are apparently delivering to other parts of the world, including the UK without delay. The flimsy justification that there are difficulties in the EU supply chain but not elsewhere does not hold water, as it is of course no problem to get the vaccine from the UK to the continent. The company cannot be interested in permanently damaging its reputation in the world's largest single market. Many in the company seem to be embarrassed by the matter. That's why I expect a change in the delivery plans for the EU in the next few hours, and an accelerated one at that. Even the 31 million doses, however, would be a significant improvement in the situation in the EU.

AstraZeneca has now also presented convincing arguments to dispel the initial skepticism about this vaccine. The company had already presented data on the clinical trial in November, but did not act transparently in all respects. The vaccine's efficacy was estimated at 70%. However, with a certain dosing regimen, it should be 90%. The problem was that this dosing regimen took place in a part of the clinical trial where only half of the vaccine was given by mistake. However, the clinical trials have since moved on and the data have been analyzed better. Apparently, it is not the administration of half a dose that is critical for a better effect, but the period between two doses. A period of up to 12 weeks seems to be optimal. Then the efficacy is reported to be 82%. If we had received the announcement in October that a vaccine was 82% effective, this would have been a sensation. Many experts, including the WHO and the U.S. FDA would have been satisfied with an efficacy of 50%. It is important to note that efficacy always refers to the number of subjects who have no symptoms of infection at all, i.e., no mild fever or mild cough. In all the trial series, there has been no one who has had a severe course, had to be hospitalized or even died after vaccination. The AstraZeneca vaccine is a good vaccine. It is only because the two mRNA vaccines from Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer have even higher efficacy that it now appears second-rate. However, it is not. In other words, BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna are Champions League winners and finalists in soccer terms, i.e. Bayern Munich and Paris Saint Germain, for example, while AstraZeneca's vaccine has only reached the semi-finals, so you can compare it to RB Leipzig and Olympique Lyon, but it has nothing to do with the district league," says Liese.

"What needs to be discussed very carefully, however, is whether the vaccine should actually be given to people over 80 years old as planned. Here the data are available, but not as good as for younger people. One must assume a clear protection but the experts, for example in Germany the permanent vaccination commission, must carefully examine whether the vaccine should really be vaccinated for over 80-year-olds, or whether one should first concentrate on younger ones, such as medical personnel. Personally, I would have the vaccine administered immediately when it is my turn, according to the objective criteria," said the doctor and CDU MEP.

"The European Union's goal of vaccinating 80% of people over 80 and 80% of medical personnel by the end of March is still achievable, despite the delay in delivery, especially since this week the fourth vaccine company, namely the American company Johnson&Johnson, but which has a large part of its production in Leiden in the Netherlands, will publish information about its vaccine. If the data are good, and we can assume that they will be, because Johnson&Johnson works on a similar principle as AstraZeneca, there may be significant relief as early as the beginning of spring as a result of Johnson&Johnson also entering the market in the EU. The advantage of this vaccine is that one dose is expected to be sufficient to achieve good vaccine protection. Later in the spring, I then expect approval and delivery from the German vaccine manufacturer CureVac.

So, unfortunately, we all need patience together, and with all the negative news, it should not be forgotten that until the fall, many claimed that it was not at all certain that any vaccine would work," Liese concluded.