EU leaders grapple with surge of infections, vaccine issues

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union (EU) leaders failed to settle a fight about the distribution of COVID-19 shots among member states on Thursday but pledged to strengthen vaccine export controls and production on EU soil amid a shortage of doses and spikes in new cases.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz criticised the allocation of shots in the EU, saying that some countries were receiving more than their fair share at the cost of others.

As the leader of a coalition of six countries, he demanded a correction mechanism, raising tensions between capitals from where the leaders were holding their remote summit.

“When member states have a lot less vaccines available to them than others, then I think this is a big issue for Europe,” Kurz said.

“This could cause damage to the EU like we haven’t seen in a long time.” At the end of the summit, the EU’s 27 nations were still locked in a dispute over how an upcoming batch of 10 million doses could be allocated to narrow the vaccine gap between member states and the leaders decided to push the talks to a future meeting of their ambassadors.

Under the joint procurement programme set up by the European Commission, doses are allocated on a pro rata basis, but some nations are taking less than their share.

A majority of EU members think the system is working well but said some nations made a mistake to focus on AstraZeneca shots instead of diversifying their vaccine portfolios.

AstraZeneca shots are cheaper and easier to handle than vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna but the company has been at odds with the bloc over repeated failures to deliver doses agreed in their contract.