I’ve seen people I respect who speak quickly and definitively about the European vaccination strategy and the responsibility of the Commission in fighting the pandemic.
The debate on European issues is always welcome, with scrutiny, criticism and comments that are fundamental to the consolidation of European democracy.
It is important, however, that these debates are based on clear premises and that facts, concepts and figures are not confused. I therefore propose that we contribute to the debate with some data on the health dimension of the crisis.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the European Commission has tried to coordinate member states’ positions to avoid incoherent national responses. It was not easy, because health is not a question of exclusive European competence.
Nevertheless, the Commission took immediate action to lift export restrictions on medicines and protective materials. It was about the joint purchase of masks, fans and laboratory supplies in order to make them available to the countries. It enabled Cohesion Funds to be rescheduled so that states can support health and the worst-hit economic and social sectors. Around € 7 billion of this funding has already been used to strengthen the response of hospitals, laboratories and health centers across the EU.
In June 2020, the Commission also presented a strategy to accelerate the development and manufacture of vaccines against Covid-19, which included negotiating pre-purchase contracts that would contribute to vaccine development on the one hand and vaccine development on the other ensure that Member States have access to them.
Vaccination in Europe: Industry couldn’t keep up with science Daniel Rocha
Among the more than a hundred expressions of interest for the pharmaceutical industry, the commission selected six manufacturers – BioNTech-Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi-GSK and CureVac – with whom it negotiated the purchase of around 2.6 billion doses (five times so much like the European population) and mobilized 2.9 billion euros. It wasn’t hoarding, but rather caution: in the summer of 2020, nobody could predict which manufacturers would be successful.
If the EU achieved unit prices among other countries, it was precisely because it was negotiating en bloc. Of these six manufacturers, five have successfully developed a vaccine and four have already received approval from the European Medicines Agency. Quantities, delivery times and the factories responsible for production were agreed with everyone. The Commission was not alone: several countries participated and followed the negotiations.
This strategy prevented each country from negotiating for itself, which would lead to competition between Member States, with some in a better position than the majority to reach favorable agreements. It also ensured that everyone was treated fairly and given a range of vaccines proportional to their population.
However, it is notorious that industry has not kept up with science. Not all manufacturers have kept the agreements. Some underestimated the production capacity, such as AstraZeneca, which plans to deliver just 30 million vaccines in the first quarter of 2021 instead of the agreed 90 million. Despite the difficulties, more than 88 million doses have been dispensed to Member States and 62 million doses have been administered.
Although the Commission shares responsibility for getting vaccines into Member States, vaccination schedules are the sole responsibility of each country. There are significant rhythm differences between almost 30% of the population who received at least one vaccine in Malta and less than 5% in other cases. Some countries preferred some manufacturers in their orders by turning away from the European distribution key and giving the rest access to unused lots. It was national decisions that reflected delays in delivery.
Differences in vaccination rates with third countries also result from political decisions that involve risks, e.g. B. the distance between the two doses beyond the recommended protocol or the provision of individual data for pharmaceutical companies. Cases of blood clots in people who have been vaccinated have led some countries to stop vaccinating AstraZeneca. These are highly sensitive issues that cannot be easily dealt with, otherwise they will affect confidence in the vaccination.
The current priority is to increase the number of vaccines made available in the second quarter. The Commission is working hard with all manufacturers to achieve the goal of having 70% of the adult population vaccinated by the end of summer. With the Johnson & Johnson vaccine approved – single dose – and compliance with Pfizer and Moderna commitments, it will be closer to making it happen.
It is possible that Europe was not sufficiently protectionist by not including “Europe-first” clauses in treaties. In a pandemic, however, it is ineffective, dangerous and ethically questionable to put barriers in a production chain where everyone is dependent on everyone.
Finally, international solidarity – or rather responsibility -. It is well known that a global pandemic can only be resolved when all countries have overcome it, at the risk of importing mutations that will bring us back to where we started. Right from the start, the EU mobilized funds to help third countries fight the pandemic, launched the COVAX mechanism with WHO and secured € 1 billion to ensure fair and equitable access to safe vaccines for low and middle income countries .
To date, more than 77 million cans have been exported from European factories to 33 countries, including 21 million cans to the UK. Yes, it is possible that Europe was not sufficiently protectionist by not including “Europe first” clauses in treaties. In a pandemic, building barriers in a production chain where everyone is dependent on everyone else is ineffective at the industrial level, dangerous for the virus and ethically questionable. However, we have already proposed measures that will allow us to have more transparency about who is producing where and to make exports conditional on compliance with contracts, including reciprocity and proportionality, especially with countries that also manufacture vaccines.
With lives at stake, we are in a race against time. The demand must be maximal, the minimal complacency. However, in order to know what to correct and improve, it is important to know how to identify errors, responsibilities of the various actors, manage scientific uncertainties, and balance caution with the inevitable risks. Light analyzes or simplified solutions can comfort prejudices or guarantee popularity, but they do not help to make us better as a community, as a country, as Europe.
The author writes according to the new orthographic convention