German Health Minister Jens Spahn on Wednesday expressed hope that a new BioNTech/Pfizer factory in Germany would “massively” expand the availability of vaccines in the EU as of next month.
Speaking at a press conference in Berlin, where Spahn defended the EU’s joint procurement of coronavirus vaccines against growing criticism in Germany and beyond, the health minister said that “if all goes well” the new production facility in Marburg will be ready in February.
“Then the company could massively expand its vaccine production,” Spahn said, adding that “the European market would be the main beneficiary” of the increased production, but that other countries could also be supplied.
Spahn rejected accusations that the European Commission bungled the vaccine procurement by not having ordered sufficient BioNTech/Pfizer vaccines, which was the first jab to receive authorization by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) last month.
“The reason for this bottleneck, for this shortage at the beginning of the vaccination campaign, is not too few quantities ordered, but rather the lack of production capacity,” he said. “It was clear from the beginning that we would have too little vaccine. It has been clear for many weeks and months. We are in the same situation as all other countries in the EU and the world.”
Yet Spahn, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, stressed that “there will be enough vaccine for everyone in Germany” and promised that every interested German would be able to get a jab by the summer. “We have ordered enough, more than enough vaccine,” he said.
Spahn also said that he would probably drop considerations to delay the second coronavirus inoculation in order to vaccinate more people. “Especially for the very elderly … the second vaccination, the boosting of the first vaccination, undoubtedly makes sense,” he said, adding that country’s disease control agency was still assessing this possibility but that the first feedback suggested sticking to the current approach.
The health minister — who is seen as a potential candidate to succeed Merkel as chancellor this fall — rejected speculations that his role in the German government has been downgraded after Merkel this week created a new task force on vaccine coordination, in which Spahn has to share responsibilities with Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier and chancellery chief Helge Braun.
“I consider it a fairly normal procedure that responsible ministers coordinate on technical issues,” Spahn told reporters.
Speaking shortly afterward at a separate press conference, German deputy government spokesperson Ulrike Demmer stressed that Merkel stands by Spahn: “The chancellor works very well with all ministers, including the health minister,” she said.
Spahn said that handling tasks such as joint vaccine purchases at EU level can be “sometimes more laborious” and raises “more need for coordination,” but stressed that the same was true for coordinating national health measures in Germany between the national government and the 16 federal states. Referring to skepticism in some parts of the population related to new mRNA vaccines like the BioNTech/Pfizer jab, the health minister said that the EU had “deliberately” chosen to purchase different types of vaccines “in order to maintain a high level of acceptance.”
On Wednesday, the European Commission and the EMA granted market authorization to a second mRNA vaccine produced by Moderna.
Spahn also expressed hope that the impact of the vaccination campaigns could be felt soon: “Once the people in need of care and the elderly in our society have been vaccinated, this pandemic will lose a large part of its horror,” he said.
Germany’s Spahn says new vaccine factory will ‘massively expand’ availability The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Politico.