German government criticized for slow pace of vaccination drive

There is growing disappointment in Germany with the speed and planning of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, prompting two major political parties to demand answers from Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Delay in vaccinating

Germany is far behind other countries in the race to vaccinate citizens during the coronavirus pandemic, said Lars Klingbeil, secretary general of the Social Democrats (SPD), who are in coalition with Merkel's conservatives.

Speaking to the ARD public broadcaster, Klingbeil put the blame on Health Minister Jens Spahn of the Christian Democrats (CDU).

Spahn also came under pressure from the opposition Free Democratic Party (FDP), whose deputy leader in parliament, Michael Theurer, said the minister "must apologize for the vaccination failure and chaos of the government."

Theurer called on Merkel to explain how the vaccination drive would continue and said coordination of the programme should be shifted to her chancellery if necessary.

Klingbeil demanded "a national effort" under Merkel's leadership and repeated the call for a conference with pharmaceutical companies to discuss ways to scale up production.

Approval only for BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer in Europe

So far, only the vaccine developed by BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer has been approved for use in the European Union. Those companies are already in talks with potential production partners.

EU countries were slower to start vaccinating than the United States or Britain, where regulators gave the BioNTech/Pfizer drug the green light in much more expedited procedures.

The European Commission has pre-emptively ordered vaccines from other producers, for which regulatory approval is still outstanding.

Germany, where BioNTech is based, has come in for criticism from those claiming that the government did not secure as many doses of the vaccine as it could have.

"We have ordered enough vaccine for Germany and the EU," Spahn told the Rheinische Post newspaper.
"The problem is not the amount ordered. The problem is the low initial production capacity - amid extremely high global demand," he added.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert backed Germany's decision to leave the ordering and distribution of vaccines with the European Commission.

"We are convinced that this was and remains the correct course," Seibert said, while adding that he understanding "the impatience, [and] the many questions that citizens are asking."

Frank Ulrich Montgomery, chairman of the World Medical Association, sided with Spahn in saying that officials in Berlin and Brussels had acted properly so far.

"No one knew which vaccine would make it past the regulatory finish line first," he said, calling the accusations a "cheap attempt to milk the vaccine shortage for political honey."

Lockdown in Germany

Germany is under a national lockdown initially set to stay in place until January 10, although Merkel and the country's 16 state premiers are expected to discuss extending the measures on Tuesday.

So far, the country has recorded 1,775,513 coronavirus cases, including 34,574 deaths, according to the Robert Koch Institute for disease control.

The government agency said on Monday that 264,952 people have received a vaccine shot against Covid-19 in Germany so far, 22,234 more than the previous day.