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21st Feb 2024

EU regions voice concern at local 'vaccination divide'

  • Local or regional authorities are responsible for health systems in 19 out of the EU's 27 member states (Photo: Helena Spongenberg)

Local and regional authorities have voiced concerns at EU-level about the differences in speed of the vaccine rollout, calling for a European dashboard that monitors vaccines' availability and distribution at sub-national level.

"We must put all our efforts in avoiding a 'vaccine divide' between our regions, cities and villages which would increase health inequalities and exacerbate people's difficulties," the Committee of the Regions (CoR) president Apostolos Tzitzikostas said on Thursday (4 February) during a plenary session.

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In 19 of the 27 member states, local and regional authorities are directly responsible for health systems, including preparing the infrastructure, logistics, targeted communication, and healthcare workforce needed to carry out national vaccinations programmes.

That is why Tzitzikostas instead that "local and regional governments are a vital partner, not a second class player" in preparing, responding, managing and recovering from the pandemic.

"We must think and act both locally and globally to tackle pandemics, to save lives and to secure jobs," he added.

During the session, the head of the European section of the World Health Organization, Hans Kluge, urged local leaders to establish a simple and clear communication strategy to help citizens understand what the plan is and when they can be vaccinated.

"Local governments and regions have been and are at the forefront of the pandemic," he also said, adding that they will have a crucial role to play in vaccination campaigns.

However, he also warned that "Covid-19 vaccines are not a silver bullet that can stop this pandemic by themselves".

"We shall not forget that this is not routine immunisation, this is a pandemic immunisation, the largest most ambitious global vaccination effort in history since 1996," Kluge told CoR members, asking for their patience and understanding while vaccine production is ramped up.

'Waive patents'?

Meanwhile, CoR members called on the European Commission and vaccines developers to increase transparency efforts regarding contracts and deliveries.

"We need more transparency in the whole process, and above all, we need more efficiency," said Karl Vanlouwe, member of the Flemish parliament, adding that both the commission and the pharmaceutical companies need to step up their game in the interest of public health.

For his part, Francisco Igea Arisqueta, vice-president of Spain's regional government of Castilla y León said that: "We cannot have any hidden secret contract," adding that confidentiality undermines trust and delays vaccinations.

"It is important to defend our citizens, and we need to do that with transparency and solidarity," he added.

Tobias Gotthardt, member of the Bavarian parliament, referred to the possibility of ramping up vaccine production under the limited World Trade Organization and national rules governing intellectual property rights and patents.

"Where the pure market does not work in an emergency, the state must act decisively, " he said.

The proposal to waive intellectual property right of vaccines worldwide, initially put forward by South Africa and India, has been gaining importance in the bloc as the EU is experiencing significant vaccines shortfalls - amid a row with pharmaceutical companies over contractual obligations.

Meanwhile, the CoR and WHO Europe have signed an action plan to increase cooperation at a regional level.

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