Vaccines are constantly monitored, even after they have been approved, whether against measles, influenza, rabies or corona. In Germany, this is the responsibility of the Paul Ehrlich Institute (which of course works closely with the European Medicines Agency (EMA)). This institute checks the quality, effectiveness and safety of every vaccine batch.
The batch is released for the market only if the experts have nothing to complain about in any respect. The Paul Ehrlich Institute is part of the German Ministry of Health. In Switzerland, Swissmedic is the licensing and supervisory authority for medicinal products and medical devices. And in Austria?
In Austria, the federal government is responsible for the state testing and approval of vaccine batches – and of course the Ministry of Health. So is about in one Letter from Vienna City Councilor for Health Peter Hacker (SPÖ) read: “The federal government procures the necessary quantities of vaccines together with the European Union, is responsible for the technical approval and quality control”.
But what does this control look like? The only thing that is known is that there is the Federal Office for Safety in Health Care – which consists of just three members. This federal office uses the staff of the Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) to carry out its tasks. But are the vaccine batches also regularly checked here? Apparently no, as a cryptic response from the Ministry of Health reveals.
When asked by the Ministry of Health whether, how often and to what extent quality controls are carried out on the vaccines received in Austria, press officer Daniel Böhm only refers to the European controls: “After each individual vaccine batch in Europe only receives approval and can be delivered if it completely meets all quality criteria, it can be ruled out that a batch is used in Europe or Austria due to poor quality.”
Austria obviously relies entirely on the controls in the EU and in other EU countries. From the point of view of the Ministry of Health, this has worked well so far: “In Austria, no batch of COVID-19 vaccines has been used to date that should have been withdrawn for quality reasons.” This of course raises the question of how the insufficient quality of the vaccines supplied could have been determined at all. The Ministry of Health only refers to the doctors: “Of course, every vaccinating doctor has to inspect the vaccine before vaccination and if there were any quality concerns about the vaccination on site, it would not be vaccinated, which is the case with all vaccines anyway.”
Doctors must report side effects. But quality controls are something else: They are complex and go beyond that. In Germany, a research team from the University Medical Center Ulm caused a stir last year when they discovered impurities in the AstraZeneca vaccine. The protein content per vaccine dose was well above the theoretically expected amount. These are not the checks that doctors carry out on a daily basis.
It happens that batches are defective and therefore unusable. In 2021, a problem occurred in the production of the corona vaccine from the manufacturer Johnson & Johnson. This involved no fewer than 15 million cans that subsequently could not be used in the United States.
It seems: Austria puts the control of the vaccination batches exclusively in the hands of other countries.