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2nd Jul 2022

EU seals new Covid-19 deal amid global distribution fears

  • Brussels has already secured, or is negotiating, a stock of nearly two billion doses of potential vaccines (Photo: Sanofi Pasteur)

The European Commission announced on Friday (18 September) that it had successfully signed its second contract on behalf of member states with pharmaceutical manufacturers Sanofi and GSK for the supply of at least 300 million doses of its potential Covid-19 vaccine.

The deal between the EU and the French and British firms, who joined forces to develop a vaccine they hope to get approved next year, follows an earlier agreement with the British drugmaker AstraZeneca for up to 400 million doses.

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In return for the right to buy the agreed number of vaccine doses in a specific timeframe, the European Commission will finance part of the upfront costs faced by vaccine producers. But the vaccine doses will be finally purchased by EU countries.

The EU executive is also discussing similar agreements with other vaccine manufacturers such as Johnson & Johnson, CureVac, Moderna and BioNTech.

In total, Brussels has already secured, or is negotiating, a stock of nearly two billion doses of potential shots.

Following new outbreaks all across Europe, EU commissioner for health, Stella Kyriakydes, said in a statement that an "effective vaccine is more instrumental than ever to overcome this pandemic and its devastating effects on our economies and societies".

The deal took place on the deadline for joining the World Health Organization's (WHO) vaccine purchase programme - which aims to speed up vaccine development and fairly distribute them to avoid "vaccine nationalism".

With nearly 30 million cases of coronavirus worldwide and more than 937,000 deaths, "vaccines will be a vital tool for bringing the pandemic under control," said the WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week.

So far, 92 low-income nations are involved in the WHO-led programme COVAX, while some 80 higher-income countries have expressed their interest to join. Last month, the US announced that they were not joining a programme "influenced by the corrupt WHO and China".

Rich countries first

In her State of the Union speech, commission president Ursula von der Leyen warned against "vaccine nationalism" saying that it put lives at risk worldwide.

However, a study from the NGO Oxfam shows that a few countries, representing just 13 percent of the world's population, have already bought more than half of the promised doses of five leading Covid-19 vaccine candidates.

These vaccines are being developed by AstraZeneca, Gamaleya/Sputnik, Moderna, Pfizer and Sinovac.

The vaccines candidates, which are in late-stage clinical trials, could supply 5.94 billion doses, enough for nearly three billion of the world's population, according to Oxfam.

But 51 percent of the supplies have been already snapped up by rich countries - namely the US, the European Union, Britain, Australia, Hong Kong & Macau, Japan, Switzerland and Israel.

While the remaining 2.6 billion doses have been bought by or promised to developing countries like India, Bangladesh, China or Brazil, among others.

"The most important thing is to scale up production across the globe as soon as a vaccine is found so that there is enough for everyone - but there must also be a fair way of allocating doses that prioritises those at risk across all countries," Anna Marriott, health policy advisor at Oxfam, told EUobserver.

"Countries in the EU are understandably concerned about securing enough doses for their citizens but until they challenge pharmaceutical monopolies their deals will leave many poorer nations out in the cold," she added.

Meanwhile, members of the European Parliament's committees on environment and industry will hold a hearing on Covid-19 vaccines next week, focusing on adequate clinical trials, speedy manufacturing and commercialisation, and equitable distribution of the vaccines.

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

The European Commission hopes to have 30m doses of AstraZeneca's potential coronavirus vaccine before the end of this year, to be distributed on a population-based pro-rata basis among the 27 EU countries - until the 300m doses negotiated arrive.

EU wants to pay in advance for promising vaccines

EU health ministers will discuss on Friday plans to have the Commission negotiate with pharmaceutical companies on behalf of EU countries, make advaced payments and secure enough vaccines for Europeans.

Commission plans strategy to 'maximise' vaccine access

The EU Commission plans a vaccine stategy to make sure all citizens have access to it once it is ready, while it is also seeking to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies on securing the vaccine.

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