8190 COVID-19 vaccine doses arrive under contract with pharmaceutical company Pfizer 

Prime Minister Edi Rama’s remarks at press conference on COVID-19 vaccination program planning and implementation upon arrival of another shipment consisting of 8190 vaccine doses under the contract with pharmaceutical company Pfizer:

 

Hello everyone! We will receive another shipment of Pfizer vaccine doses today and, as we have already announced, over 41.000 doses will be delivered within March.

In the meantime, we keep making daily efforts to secure an important deal with a friendly nation over a shipment of 360.000 AstraZeneca vaccines. Likewise, we are engaged in intense communication with two other countries with the aim of enhancing the quantity of vaccine doses, so that we maintain momentum and progressively ramp up the tempo to deliver on our objective to vaccinate whole population in 14 months.

The 14-month objective is quite ambitious one taking notice of the conditions we are in and also for the fact, as you can see for yourselves, the race to secure the coronavirus vaccine is becoming tougher with the countries throughout the world scrambling to secure deliveries as the available vaccine quantities are very small compared to the demand. However, we don’t go down quickly and we don’t give up easily, but quite the contrary. I am very confident that sooner rather than later we will receive very good news. However, this is the current situation.

We continue to be supplied with the Pfizer vaccine and we continue the vaccine rollout for the health workers, a process already spread to include whole territory. We are nearing completion of the inoculation of all the older adults at the residential care homes and their personnel, while vaccination of the seniors over 80 years old is also underway.

As we speak, 70% of the total vaccine production is in the hands of just 10 countries. All other countries that have had access to the possible vaccine doses have shared only 30% of the total volume, while a total of 140 countries, including countries in our region, have yet to provide a single dose of the vaccine.

I am saying this to frame all this effort into a context, because the vaccine doses we have received and keep receiving, are vitally important to the entire health personnel, all those who have received the first dose and, undoubtedly, it is currently an inverse proportion between these vaccine quantities and the quantity we need to vaccinate people, the ones who really wish to receive the vaccine as it is not mandatory. We are fully aware about this and this is the cause of insomnia and restlessness over this period in terms of the continued efforts not to slow down the tempo, but on the contrary ramp it up progressively.

The data from the health authorities show that no cases of vaccine side effects have been reported to date. From my own experience, I can say that the antibodies develop in a very impressive way after the vaccine is received.

– Is the government mulling plans to reduce the age of the target group after the shipment of the vaccine doses delivered today and the doses we expect to receive from that friendly country, as well as under the contract with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer? The process started with the vaccination of doctors and nurses and it has now included the seniors over 80. Are considering opportunities to extend the vaccine rollout for younger age groups? We are noticing that the more the April 25 election date nears the more tense the political situation is getting. Earlier today, you left open the possibility of discussing the election participation for the citizens, whose biometric documents have expired, so postponing validity of these documents until April 30. Yet, just few hours later, President Meta stated in Vlora, I quote: “Albanians will vote on April 25 with passports, ID cards and swords.” How would you comment this statement from the President?

PM Edi Rama: With your permission, I would like to focus on the reason why we are here today, which is a major reason, and focus on this struggle to secure the vaccines for the Albanian citizens, which is, of course, not fought with swords. “The wars with swords” are games to be played by the kindergarten kids, or those whose connection with the brain’s shield has been broken. This is about a huge trade political and communication war, and I want that my last thought be that I and we did everything today to make sure that we don’t lag behind in this war. This is my war today. Everything else is of course circumstantial events with circumstantial characters that do not deserve shifting focus from this major struggle. 

As to the target groups that should receive the vaccine first, as the Health Minister has explained and as the vaccination strategy clearly stipulates it and just like it is the case in all other countries, since we have invented nothing, but we have looked at the experiences of other countries that have started vaccine rollout for people over 65 and older. But, if we are talking about everyone 65 and older, the vaccination should actually start for individuals over 65 and then for those at 65, as the older adults are at highest risk from COVID-19. The older the individual, the greater the risk. This is the logic behind any vaccination campaign in every country around the world. If you have secured the required doses to vaccinate all those over 65 and older, then you can easily expand the process to administer the vaccines to younger population. If you are short of the number of required doses, just like it is the case with us, then vaccination starts for the oldest ones and then gradually moves to younger people. This is the reason I have consistently repeated and I would reiterate that administering the vaccine to the renowned public individuals didn’t actually include equally renowned people under 80, in order to maintain equality among people. The only thing that remained as an absurd discussion was why the vaccination started with Alfred Moisiu, whose name begins with an “A”, and it didn’t start with unknown people. It is not about thousands of people, but just 20 or 25 people among hundreds of individuals included in the first target group. At the stadium premises there were renowned and unknown people, older ordinary people, who were picked by the family doctors to receive the vaccine.

I am very confident, and whatever I say is based on known facts, that we will be able to announce the news about securing a considerable vaccine doses soon. We are working on several fronts. We are close to inking an agreement with a friendly country. Most likely –we have yet to confirm it – I will pay a visit to that country in the next 10 or 15 days and we will receive a final confirmation about 360.000 AstraZeneca doses that has been already confirmed at a ministerial level. In the meantime, we are also moving closer to reaching a deal with another country, and it could happen earlier than the country I referred above, or later, as the dynamics change every minute. The Minister of State for the Reconstruction, who has been tasked with the post-pandemic recovery process since the very onset and who on behalf of the Prime Minister coordinates actions between the Ministry, the Ministry of Finance and Economy, and who is directly involved in this process, will establish first high-level contact with a third country, with which we had a quite encouraging communication earlier today. This is simply incomplete information for you, as long as a concrete deal has yet to be finalized, except for the confirmation about the 360.000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses. But as long as we still have to receive the shipment, the information is either incomplete or unsatisfactory. This is the situation as of today.

–Several weeks ago you ruled out the opportunity to receive vaccines from China and Russia. However, is Albanian government mulling plans to secure vaccines from these two countries in order to speed up the vaccination rollout?

PM Edi Rama: Thank you for the question, as I have followed this debate or discussion too. I want to make a clarification for everyone. Nobody should think that the Chinese and Russian vaccines are available at every stand, where you can simply purchase and take them away. It is not like that. Even the countries that have already signed or announced a deal in principle, they have yet to receive the vaccines. The available quantities of the Chinese and Russian vaccines are limited too. Just consider the number of people who have already received the vaccine in Russia compared to the size of the population and that number doesn’t suggest that huge vaccine quantities are available. So, it is a matter of production capacities for everyone.

Second, what I have already said could have been misunderstood or interpreted not in an adequate way, forgetting what I have stated since the very beginning that there is no reason for us and it is completely impossible for us to question the integrity and professionalism of the Chinese and Russian scientists. We have no doubts about value of these vaccines, but you should bear in mind that they are vaccines which have yet to receive approval by the World Health Organization. This doesn’t mean we are staying away from these vaccines, because they haven’t been approved yet and, on the other hand, we don’t think and we have no reasons to believe that being fully aligned with the European Union, we are given priority on the very long queue for those vaccines. Therefore, I haven’t changed my mind and the reason is exactly the one I just said. It is not a matter of geopolitics, in the banal sense of the word, but this is a political war in itself, not for us. A political war is going on over the vaccine throughout the planet, both in the global arena and within the countries. You are seeing for yourselves that all sorts of hypothesis and nonsense are being tabled. It is an economic, trade and political war, because of the lack of adequate quantities of vaccines. Behind these two a war is going on and it directly depends on the level of ties between a country with another country and on personal relations. It seems strange, but it also depends on personal relationships. 

However, I would like to make it clear that it is not that these vaccines are being made available to us and we are turning them down. We haven’t and we are not going to take formal steps towards these two sources, as we are aware that they would be steps without objective reasons. There are no objective reasons that would lead us to an outcome. I don’t want to comment further, but I have already stated and I repeat, this is a situation, which could certainly be quite different. It is not us who can decide and it is definitely not us the ones who can fix this, as we are very small to make decisions or fix things at a European level. I think that the fact that North Macedonia is forced to turn their eyes towards China and Russia to secure the initial vaccine doses and commence the vaccination rollout is a European political fatality. I can mention many more countries, including Kosovo too. However, taking notice of the dynamics, I want to assure you all that we will make all the possible moves to secure the vaccine. The Chinese vaccine is clearly successful. It would suffice to take a look at its success in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the Saudi Arabia and it would suffice to consider the data on its very positive effects. Likewise, the comments on the Russian vaccine are quite positive comments. However, you should also consider the case of the countries, which have demanded these vaccines, but they have yet to receive these vaccines.

We consider and discuss all these indicators and data. It is absolutely not a refractory attitude or it is absolutely not that we think let the vaccination never happen, as we don’t accept other vaccines but the Pfizer or the AstraZeneca vaccines only and we don’t accept Chinese or Russian vaccines. This is not true. But there is one thing everybody should know. This is not a matter of money. The vaccine prices are soaring, because the demand is very feverish and supply is very small. But, no matter how much the prices of vaccines increase, in no way will we give up from securing even the single vaccine dose available or and let a single Albanian citizen wait beyond what we can do, just because the vaccine price has increased. 

I am saying this to tell the people who comment or keep suggesting that this is a matter of economic power, this is a matter of the budget you can afford and it is a matter of price. No! The only problem is that no sufficient doses are available. The vaccines are not up for sale at a market for everyone to buy them. There are no open doors for us and all it takes is just stepping over that threshold. Full commitment and incredible perseverance is needed to open those doors and reach a deal on the vaccine. In other words, I have thought that the most difficult thing I would face in my capacity as Prime Minister was to secure funds to support reconstruction programme, but compared to the efforts to secure the needed vaccine quantities it now seems a completely normal process. 

It is truly insane. It is not a matter of securing funds or securing something that others have already secured. It is a matter of securing something that nobody has and the old saying that “one man to another is a wolf” is the reality in the daily fight for the vaccine. One state being a wolf to another state, one man being a wolf to other man. It is easy to cite things like solidarity and equality, but indeed we face the fact that the need is extremely high, but the available quantity is very small and a huge pack of wolves seeking to take away as much as they can from that small available quantity. Just think about what is going on.

– Mr. Prime Minister, you have condemned as criminal the conduct of politicians who gather a large number of people without respecting physical distance or wearing face coverings in indoor settings for their election campaign meetings. However, taking notice that such meetings are still being held despite the sanctions that have been imposed on some of them, don’t you think that more severe sanctions should be imposed on politicians?

PM Edi Rama: I think that those who open their bars’ doors to these politicians, because it will be them the ones who would pay it dearly. I don’t know whether you are aware of this fact. It is them who would pay the cost and who face prospect of seeing their businesses closed down and the owners of these premises should be the ones, who should reject these politicians.

When you think that the President, the father of this whole family, the guardian of all parties and the guarantor of the constitutional health of this country, he is indeed the first one to set the most catastrophic example and this is a disaster.

What I personally do is that I remind all my colleagues every day that don’t need what we lose from contacting less than ten people when it comes to the citizens’ health and in the face of such a tremendous challenge. To hell with it all! Therefore, I personally never go beyond this line. On the other hand it is a very big challenge and I am thinking, I do not know how it can be possibly materialized that amid this kind of very narrow space of humanity in the political arena, the political forces, at least the main forces, agree on what we will do and how we will do it by April 25th. Don’t forget that any additional restriction measure will be branded as a dictatorial reaction by Edi Rama to limit the space of “the victors”, who are coming to take over the Palace of Brigades and lay in the emperor’s bed.

This is definitely not a matter of the personal cost, but it is a problem of the effect. You can stiffen the restriction measures, but, if you have no human awareness, if you have no political awareness, if those who pretend to represent people show no responsibility, you can of course impose the fine, but it won’t work and if it doesn’t work is just becomes worse.

We are discussing and hopefully we will find a way on which we will agree. Of course, referring to experts, taking into consideration the opinion of experts who are not members of the Technical Committee, as long as the Technical Committee, who should respect the measures more than anyone else turn out to have been punished, let then other experts have their say. Let’s come up with a common idea on how this electoral campaign will take place, define the frame of actions regarding the communication with the public and reach a common ground  and a deal about the rules everyone should abide by and everyone should then respect these rules they agree upon. Whatever happens in the election campaign, the tendency is to turn it into your favour and into a disadvantage for the opponent. 

Let’s see whether we would succeed in doing something about this. It would be best for everyone, because an electoral campaign could get out of control.  Just imagine that the President could give up using his “Mercedes”, he currently uses without an escort, and travels to arrive at those mysterious meetings by a horse and by mobilizing 200 or 300 medal laureates and arming them with swords, then it would be really difficult to stop him, if not a consensus is reached on how the election campaign will take place. The risk the horses would face becomes immediate, as the horses could go mad too. We would then experience a completely different situation, with the President’s madness affecting the horses and we would then face a double problem. That’s why we should examine it.

–In addition to the vaccination process, special importance has been placed on the face mask rule and respecting the physical distance among people. However, the number of fresh cases show quite the opposite, as the new COVID cases are soaring.  Do you think that more restriction measures are needed as the number of fresh cases is constantly surging. Is Albania powerful enough economically to cope with a second lockdown?

PM Edi Rama: I am fare from being an expert, but we have all learned few simple things by heart over this period. The effects of the measures we have recently introduced cannot be expected to be materialized just a day later. The effect of a longer curfew, the effect of using the face mask in all outdoor spaces, though not being respected 100%, it is still being respected a lot more than if such a rule was not to exist and we will see its effects during the period when they produce their impact, just like it was the case with the surge in new infection cases that we had predicted earlier. It was not a surprise at all. The trends projected by the Technical Committee and the experts at the Ministry of Health clearly suggested that what happened at the end of last year would definitely lead to an increase in the fresh COVID cases. In other words, these are measures that don’t produce immediate effects. The Health Minister has explained more than once the impact of the today’s measures in time. It’s not that curfew would yield results immediately. It doesn’t work that way.