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Austria breaks ranks with EU to produce vaccines with Denmark, Israel

·2-min read

VIENNA, March 2 (Reuters) - Austria broke ranks with the European Union on Tuesday and said it would work together with Israel and Denmark to produce second-generation vaccines against mutations of the coronavirus.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Austria and Denmark, as members of the First Mover Group founded by Kurz, would work with Israel on vaccine production against mutations of the coronavirus and jointly research treatment options.

The announcement is a rebuke to the EU's joint vaccine procurement programme for member states which has been criticised for being too slow to agree deals with manufacturers.

Production problems and supply chain bottlenecks have also slowed deliveries to the bloc, delaying the roll-out of vaccines.

While the decision to agree that the EU procures vaccines for member states was correct in principle, Kurz said the European Medicines Agency had been too slow to approve vaccines and lambasted supply bottlenecks from pharmaceutical companies.

"We must therefore prepare for further mutations and should no longer be dependent only on the EU for the production of second-generation vaccines," he said in a statement.

Experts reckon that Austria will have to vaccinate two-thirds of the population, equivalent to more than 6 million people annually, in coming years, Kurz said.

Kurz is due to travel to Israel this week with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen to see Israel's rapid vaccine roll-out up close.

He said he would inspect pharmaceutical companies with domestic production including Pfizer, Novartis. Polymun and Boehringer Ingelheim as well as speak to leading scientists and physicians on Tuesday.

Germany last month set up a task force to address bottlenecks in the supply chain of vaccine production and boost local manufacturing to protect itself against future pandemics. (Reporting by Francois Murphy and Caroline Copley, editing by Ed Osmond)