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COVID-19

EU states seek summit on unfair vaccine handouts as AstraZeneca announce more delays

Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Latvia have called for a EU summit to discuss "huge disparities" in the distribution of vaccines, according to a letter published Saturday.

EU states seek summit on unfair vaccine handouts as AstraZeneca announce more delays
(Photo by JENS SCHLUETER / AFP)

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz suggested Friday that some members of the European Union may have signed “secret contracts” with vaccine companies to receive more doses than they were entitled to as per EU-wide agreements.

Kurz and his four counterparts on Friday sent a letter to Ursula Von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, and Charles Michel, president of the European Council, claiming that “deliveries of vaccine doses by pharma companies to individual EU member states are not being implemented on an equal
basis.”

“If this system were to carry on, it would continue creating and exacerbating huge disparities among member states by this summer, whereby some would be able to reach herd immunity in a few weeks while others would lag far behind,” the letter said.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Photo: YVES HERMAN / AFP / POOL

“We therefore call on you… to hold a discussion on this important matter among leaders as soon as possible,” it said.

Kurz on Friday described “bazaars” where some member states made additional agreements with vaccine companies, but an EU spokesman said that it was up to members states to “ask less or more of a given vaccine.”

The Austrian health ministry also dismissed Kurz’s claims, reiterating the EU’s statement that each member state was allowed to say how many doses of the various vaccines it wanted to procure.

“These were very balanced and transparent negotiations,” Ines Stilling, general secretary of the Austrian health ministry, said in an interview with the public broadcaster Saturday.

The European Union has blamed its sluggish vaccine rollout on supply and delivery problems and continues to lag behind the United States, Israel and the United Kingdom in terms of the percentage of the population that has already received at least one dose.

READ ALSO: France will not halt use of AstraZeneca vaccine, says health minister

The Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca announced a new shortfall in planned vaccine shipments to the European Union on Saturday, citing production problems and export restrictions.

“AstraZeneca is disappointed to announce a shortfall in planned COVID-19 vaccine shipments to the European Union (EU) despite working tirelessly to accelerate supply,” it said in a statement.

The company had previously warned it was facing shortfalls from its European supply chain due to “lower-than-expected output from the production process.”

It was hoping to compensate for part of the shortfall by sourcing vaccines from its global network, with half of the EU’s supply in the second quarter and 10 million doses in the first quarter due to come from its international supply chain.

READ ALSO: AstraZeneca suspension: Blood-clot risk ‘no higher in vaccinated people’

(Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

“Unfortunately, export restrictions will reduce deliveries in the first quarter, and are likely to affect deliveries in the second quarter,” it added.

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AstraZeneca started delivery of the vaccine to the EU in February, and still aims to deliver 100 million doses in the first half of 2021, of which 30 million are due to be delivered in the first quarter.

The under-fire firm said it was “collaborating with the EU Commission and member states to address the supply challenges.

“It remains confident that productivity in its EU supply chain will continue to improve, to help protect millions of Europeans against the virus.”

READ ALSO: Covid-19: Italy bans batch of AstraZeneca vaccine

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HEALTH

‘Kur’: The alternative treatments you can get from a doctor in Austria

In Austria, prevention and self-recovery play a big part in the healthcare system. Here are some alternative treatments that might not be prescribed elsewhere.

'Kur': The alternative treatments you can get from a doctor in Austria

The style of healthcare in Austria is often different to other countries, especially when it comes to prescribing medication.

This is because doctors in Austria have a holistic approach to medicine with a preference for natural and alternative treatments. This is so ingrained that it can even be difficult to get a prescription for antibiotics or sleep medication.

For some, alternative treatments and a focus on the power of rest for recovery can be a good thing. Particularly when compared to many western countries where there is a culture of presenteeism and a habit of dishing out medication without dealing with the cause of an illness.

FOR MEMBERS: Six things to know about visiting a doctor in Austria

But it can also be confusing (and frustrating) for people that are used to leaving a doctor’s office with a prescription for medicine, as opposed to an alternative treatment.

Here’s what you need to know about healthcare in Austria.

How does healthcare work in Austria?

Social insurance (which covers healthcare) is compulsory for people living in Austria, unless you have private comprehensive insurance.

Enrolment in the public health care system is generally automatic and is linked to employment, including self-employment. Insurance is also guaranteed to co-insured persons, such as spouses and dependents, as well as pensioners, students, disabled people, and those receiving unemployment benefits.

The cost of healthcare is linked to income rather than health needs. 

READ MORE: Spas, pregnancy and contraceptives: What Austrian healthcare covers – and what it does not

But Austria actually operates a two-tier healthcare system, so residents can have their own private policies as well. Likewise, doctors can choose to work with public or only private patients – or both.

Also, expect a different style of bedside manner in Austria when compared with many other countries – most notably in a lack of small talk.

It is not rare for consultations to last just a few minutes, a drastic change for people from South America, for example, where doctors sometimes spend 30 to 60 minutes talking to patients. 

What alternative treatments can be prescribed?

One of the most well-known (and most surprising) alternative treatments in Austria is a Kur. This is a spa break for rest and recuperation and it must be prescribed by a doctor.

A Kur is covered by social insurance and the aim is to keep people in work by allowing them some time out to recover from an illness or injury. But don’t expect a chilled-out week by a pool as a Kur usually involves a rigorous schedule of physio and massage. 

For some people – like those diagnosed with Long Covid or recovering from burnout  a stay at a medical rehabilitation facility for several weeks might be prescribed. In this case, the schedule might include sessions with a psychotherapist, as well as physical therapy to aid recovery. Again, the cost is covered by social insurance.

READ ALSO: Reader question: How to get a flu vaccination in Austria?

Another alternative treatment that can be prescribed by a doctor is for a package of infrared (Infrarot) sauna sessions. This is often for people with back or mobility issues.

Similarly, a referral (Überweisung) to a physiotherapist is given out to people with injuries, usually far quicker than in countries like the UK where it can take several months to access physio through the public health system.

And controversially, some Austrian doctors still prescribe homoeopathic remedies in exceptional cases. An example would be when all other treatment options have been exhausted and homoeopathy could improve the situation.

How to get alternative healthcare treatments in Austria?

As with most health issues in Austria, the first step is to visit a general practitioner (Hausartz). Your doctor should then explain treatment options.

In most cases, if an alternative treatment is suitable, then a doctor should offer it. Or at the very least, provide you with a referral to a specialist who could then prescribe a treatment.

However, treatments like a Kur or a stay at a rehabilitation facility are not always prescribed straight away. For example, a Long Covid patient might have to visit a doctor several times before being offered a place at rehab.

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