An official in charge of Austria's purchases of COVID-19 vaccines has resigned, the health minister said Monday, days after Chancellor Sebastian Kurz raised concerns about vaccine distribution within the EU and criticised Malta.
Kurz last week suggested that some European countries may have signed "secret contracts" with vaccine companies to receive more vaccines than they were entitled to based on EU rules.
"Malta will receive three times as many doses per capita as Bulgaria until the end of July," Kurz had said.
The European Commission later pointed out that some EU states had not taken up all the vaccines allocated to them.
In Malta, Health Minister Chris Fearne had dismissed Kurz's claims and Prime Minister Robert Abela said on Sunday that Malta had been 'aggressive' in its procurement, but did not act underhand.
In a statement on Monday, Austrian Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said Clemens Auer, the official in charge of Austria's vaccines procurement, had told him he was resigning.
Monday's statement pointed to problems with the way Austria itself had handled the vaccine procurement process within the framework established by the EU.
Anschober said Auer had "in one concrete case not forwarded information on to me.
"This was the fact that it was possible to order extra doses from a reserve pot made up of doses not used by other member states," Anschober said.
After Kurz's intervention on Friday, Austria was joined by the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Latvia in demanding talks among EU leaders to address what they called the "huge" disparities in vaccine distribution.
The European Commission responded by saying in a statement that it agreed "that the most equitable solution for the allocation of doses of vaccines is on the basis of a pro rata of population of each member state".
However, it went on to point out that EU member states had themselves decided to retain the possibility of "a different distribution of doses, taking into account the epidemiological situation and the vaccination needs of each country".
"Under this system, if a member state decides not to take up its pro rata allocation, the doses are redistributed among the other interested member states," it said.
Kurz's People's Party (OeVP) then demanded Auer's resignation for not having made use of this mechanism.
The row has led to tension between the OeVP and their junior coalition partners the Green party, to which Anschober belongs.
As of Monday, official figures show 8.4 percent of Austria's 8.9-million-strong population have received their first dose of a vaccine.
In Malta, one of the countries singled out by Kurz as having received a much higher per capita number of doses, the equivalent figure is already 18.3 percent.
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