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Lithuanian govt to make decisions on COVID-19 vaccines, but there're many risks – minister

VILNIUS – The Lithuanian government will make decisions on COVID-19 vaccine purchases, but there are many risks in planning them, Health Minister Aurelijus Veryga said on Monday.

President Gitanas Nauseda's office has refused to convene a meeting of the State Defense Council on vaccine procurement matters. 

"The government will definitely make decisions on the purchase of vaccines, all the more so because it involves certain financial obligations. Anyway, the State Defense Council decisions would have been recommendatory in nature," he told reporters.  

The Commission has signed a preliminary purchase agreement with British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca which expects to be among the first to start producing a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Member states could withdraw from the acquisition after the agreement was signed, but Lithuania has decided to go ahead with it, according to Veryga.    

In the procurement, doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be distributed on a population-based pro-rata basis. 

Lithuania has to decide on what further strategy as the European Commission is negotiating with other potential vaccine producers, Veryga said. 

"We should decide whether we diversify the procurement of vaccines, or set some proportions, or opt to participate in the procurement of all vaccines – there are seven of them currently – and earmark money for that," the minister said.

"There are a lot of risks. It is possible that, in theory, all these vaccines will be approved as effective and then we will need to buy all of them," he said. "If we refuse to buy a vaccine and it proves to be effective, then we will not have an effective vaccine."

The country may end up buying too many doses than its population needs and will have to decide what to do with the surplus, the minister said.  

The vaccine procurement process involves significant financial commitments and strategic decisions that go beyond the Health Ministry's competence, he added.  

Values based positions in the international arena

On 17 September, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Linas Linkevičius continued his visit to Washington D.C., where he met with the United States National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien.

“On behalf of the U.S. President, Lithuania was thanked for its consistent adherence to values based positions in the international arena, as well as for being a reliable partner, for fulfilling the commitment to increase its defence spending, and for its efforts to achieve energy independence. We hope that the U.S. will continue to focus its attention on Lithuania and on the entire region, and we appreciate the U.S. military presence in the country,” said Lithuania’s Foreign Minister.

In the meeting, Linkevičius and O'Brien discussed the situation in Belarus, a joint response and new sanctions, which the U.S. intended to impose coordinating with the European Union.

No-deal Brexit no longer a major threat to Lithuania, economists say

VILNIUS – A no-deal Brexit is no longer a major threat to the Lithuanian economy, economists said on Monday.   

Lithuania is now facing more serious threats due to other problems, primarily the coronavirus pandemic which has not caused any major domestic economic downturn, but has affected its key export markets, they said. 

"Brexit is definitely not at the top of the agenda, because there are more serious issues," Indre Genyte-Pikciene, the chief economist at INVL Asset Management, told BNS. 

Although the Lithuanian economy is very open and dependent on exports, its foreign trade dependence on the UK is not very high, she noted 

SEB Lithuania's economist Tadas Povilauskas said fears remain the same as far as the UK's withdrawal from the EU goes, but it has been more than four years since the referendum, and Brexit, even without a deal with the EU, will no longer be a shock to the Lithuanian economy. 

Most Lithuanian companies have done their homework to prepare for all possible scenarios, he noted. 

A no-deal Brexit is currently seen by SEB economists as a "fifty-fifty" probability, according to Povilauskas.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last weekend threatened to quit Brexit talks with the EU if no trade agreement is reached by the bloc's summit scheduled for October 15. 

The UK accounted for 5.2 percent of the total exports of Lithuanian-origin goods in 2019, down from 6.1 percent in 2016, the year of the Brexit vote, according to Statistics Lithuania. 

Figures from the Bank of Lithuania show that the share of Lithuanian services exports to the UK is even lower, at around 4 percent. 

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