Switzerland, Serbia set to vaccinate before EU

When it comes to vaccination, the EU is getting beaten in its own backyard. 

Switzerland on Wednesday became the first continental European country to start using the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, with a 90-year-old woman in Lucerne receiving the first jab. The country’s regulator approved the vaccine with a conditional marketing authorization at the weekend and more than 100,000 doses of the vaccine arrived in the country on Tuesday. 

Serbia looks to be next in line, saying it would use the vaccines from Thursday after 5,000 doses arrived in the EU candidate country, President Aleksandar Vučić said Wednesday. 

The EU meanwhile, is holding off until Sunday, as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen designated December 27 through December 29 the EU’s vaccination days. The Commission has stuck to this timeline, even though it approved the vaccine only hours after the European Medicines Agency’s favorable recommendation. 

BioNTech said shipments to EU countries could start on Wednesday, but the Commission said they will arrive by Saturday, December 26. 

Some countries such as Denmark have said they would begin vaccinating as soon as vials arrive, while other countries such as the Netherlands will wait until January because of issues setting up their registration system. Still, most EU countries — from small countries such as Malta to big ones such as Germany — have signed onto this December 27 date, so the EU can begin vaccinating in unison in a public show of solidarity. 

However, the Continent trails behind the U.K., which began vaccinating on December 8. The U.S. followed suit and began vaccinating on December 14. The delay prompted gripes from leaders in Poland and Hungary, and even a push from health ministers in Germany and Italy for EU regulators to hurry up.

As Switzerland rolls out the first vaccination campaign on the Continent, it is focusing first on vaccinating vulnerable people, which includes people over the age of 75 or with chronic illnesses. They will be followed by health care workers, then those in close contact with vulnerable groups and finally those who live in communal settings. 

Serbia will start vaccinating elderly people who live in nursing homes this week. Vučić told reporters that he himself, Prime Minister Ana Brnabić or Social Policy Minister Darija Kisić Tepavčević would receive the vaccine in a bid to boost confidence, according to Serbian news outlet N1.

Although EU countries plan to vaccinate at the same time, each country is tasked with actually administering the vaccines and choosing priority groups. One of the first to receive the vaccine in the EU could be Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who said he will be vaccinated on Sunday, according to Kathimerini.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium policy service: Pro Health Care. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharma and more, our specialized journalists keep you on top of the topics driving the health care policy agenda. Email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

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