Wednesday

27th Jan 2021

Coronavirus

EU vaccine negotiator: joint-purchase doses will 'come first'

  • The second quarter of 2021, April to June, 'is going to be the quarter with many doses,' the EU's top negotiator on vaccines contracts, Sandra Gallina, told MEPs (Photo: European Commission)

The EU's top negotiator on vaccine contracts, Sandra Gallina, has defended the EU's collective approach on vaccines, arguing that doses collectively purchased will "come first", ahead of those secured under bilateral deals.

During a hearing in the European Parliament's environment and public health committee, Gallina said she was "confused" by recent reports of bilateral deals because the EU's overall strategy forbids member states from negotiating individually.

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  • 'If I buy billions of doses [on paper] but they are not delivered, what's the use?' said Gallina (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service)

"I have not seen yet one [bilateral deal], I do not think I will ever. They do not exist based on what I have been told, [but in any case], the quantities [purchased] for Europe come first," Gallina told MEPs on Tuesday (12 January).

Last week, Germany said it had secured 30 million additional vaccine doses for its own citizens under a separate agreement with BioNTech - an announcement that explicitly appears on the German health ministry website.

However, the commission has refused to clarify whether the German deal is legal under the EU rules.

Meanwhile, the president of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, has also said that his country is in talks with Israel for extra vaccines under its own deal, arguing that EU's supplies are "not enough for rapid and mass vaccinations".

In response to critics, Gallina said that Brussels bought "as much as was offered," considering prices and timely deliveries.

"If I buy billions of doses [on paper] but they are not delivered, what's the use?" she also said.

The commission, on behalf of member states, has sealed deals with six companies for up to 2.3 billion vaccine doses.

Currently, the BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are the only jabs authorised in the EU.

With two doses per person needed for both authorised vaccines, the European Union could vaccinate at least 380 million people - since the total of vaccine doses purchased by the EU is 760 million (600 million from BioNtech-Pfizer and 160 million from Moderna).

Thus, the EU's procurement would cover approximately 80 percent of the European population.

"This has been a united effort that has gotten us the doses that as a single country, big as the country can be, would have never received," Gallina warned.

Meanwhile, the commission expects to see faster deliveries of vaccines from April, as already agreed in the existing contracts.

The second quarter "is going to be the quarter with many doses," Gallina said, adding that quick vaccination programs will help to control the transmission of the new variant of Covid-19.

The European Medicine Agency is currently studying the efficacy of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University - expected to become the third vaccine authorised in the EU before the end of the month.

Additionally, the commission is also trying to close deals with French company Valneva and the US firm Novavax for up to 230 million vaccines.

Vaccines are distributed to EU countries on a population-based pro-rata basis, although member states can trade among themselves.

Calls for transparency

MEPs told the commission official that the lack of transparency regarding vaccine contracts had triggered both high expectations and uncertainty among EU citizens, while fuelling disinformation.

"Transparency is at most crucial, [otherwise] we are opening the possibilities for all nationalists' frames [of the situation]," Green MEP Bas Eeckhout warned the commission.

A reading room has been made available for those MEPs who want to review vaccine contracts, but only CureVac has agreed so far to make the agreements available for lawmakers.

"More companies should follow this example," said EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides.

Agenda

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The European Medicines Agency has authorised the use of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by US company Moderna - while the EU is involved in a blame-game over a sluggish vaccine rollout across member states.

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EU leaders talk vaccines, while the Portugues EU presidency introduces itself to MEPs. Joe Biden will be inaugurated as president of the United States, and the EU hopes this will mark a new beginning for EU-US relations.

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The European Commission has announced targets to accelerate the roll-out of vaccination, and the intention of "a common approach" on possible vaccine certificates. Both topics will be discussed by EU leaders on Thursday.

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