Thursday

21st Jan 2021

Coronavirus

How EU aims - hopefully - to secure vaccine by end of 2020

  • 'If we have a [unified] response in Europe we can better influence what's happening in the world,' an EU official said (Photo: Michael Bird)

Since July, the European Commission has been investing in speeding up the development of potential Covid-19 vaccines - and securing doses for EU citizens.

While the development of a vaccine can normally take up to 10 years, researchers worldwide are trying to shorten the process from 18 months to just 12 months.

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Last week, the commission signed its first contract, on behalf of member states, with British pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca for the supply of at least 300 million doses of its potential Covid-19 vaccine - with an option to buy a further 100 million doses.

Yet this would cover less than ten percent of the EU population - assuming one dose per person.

"We want all the member states to have the same price but also to have the vaccine at the same time. It means that, for instance, for AstraZeneca, we will have I would say at the end of this year a certain number of doses - hopefully, 30m doses," a senior EU official told reporters on Thursday (3 September).

To ensure equity, vaccine doses will be distributed on a population-based pro-rata basis among the 27 EU countries until the negotiated amount is reached - but then member states will themselves decide to who this vaccine will be given first.

Brussels is also negotiating with 'Big Pharma' giants such as Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, Moderna, and CureVac for their potential vaccine attempts, in order to have a diversified portfolio of vaccines developed with different technologies.

In addition, the commission official said that they are attempting to advance talks with Pfizer and BionTech for the vaccine the two companies are developing together.

Meanwhile, the EU executive and member states this week expressed, at the very last minute, their intention to join the World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine accelerator programme COVAX - whose portfolio includes nine candidate vaccines and further nine under evaluation.

So far the commission has pledged €400mm in guarantees to COVAX - although the terms and conditions are still being negotiated.

And EU countries have committed not to negotiate individually or via COVAX with the same vaccine manufacturers with which talks are ongoing under the EU scheme.

"For the commission and president Ursula von der Leyen, global solidarity is as important as European solidarity - but if we have a response in Europe we can better influence what's happening in the world," another EU official said.

The WHO-led COVAX facility, which covers over 170 countries worldwide, was designed to avoid the nationalisation of Covid-19 vaccines - while the European scheme gives priority for member states leaving the door open for donations to third countries.

COVAX aims to deliver 2bn doses by the end of 2021, based on an assessment of each country's vulnerability to the novel coronavirus.

The US, for its part, recently announced that they are not joining the programme.

"The United States will continue to engage our international partners to ensure we defeat this virus, but we will not be constrained by multilateral organisations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China," a White House spokesperson said on Tuesday.

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