Sharing EU’s vaccine blueprint towards global recovery

NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Thomas Wiersing (The Philippine Star) - January 28, 2021 - 12:00am

As reports on the COVID-19 variants continue to hit the headlines, this year ushers in a beacon of hope because vaccines are now available. Getting the most cost-effective and efficient vaccines is the next big step which has become a challenge not only for us in the European Union but also for other countries worldwide. We are in a public health emergency. We have to act fast.

No one will be safe until all have access to a vaccine and, together with the member-states, the EU has both a responsibility and interest to make vaccines universally available. That is why we have been investing up-front in vaccine development so that successful vaccines will be produced on a scale required as early as possible.

As the Philippines is securing vaccines so is the EU, which has adopted a common approach to vaccine procurement for all member-states.

Let me walk you through with our EU’s story on how we have developed and have started to distribute effective and safe vaccines against COVID-19.

The EU has mapped out a vaccine strategy to guarantee the quality, safety and efficacy of vaccines; to secure swift access to vaccines for member-states and their populations while leading the global solidarity effort; and to make certain the equitable access to an affordable vaccine as early as possible.

Because the EU supports access to vaccines for the whole world, it has joined the COVAX facility and is providing financial resources to the World Health Organization, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the Vaccine Alliance. In total, the EU (including member-states) has provided 853 million euros to help 92 low- and middle-income countries, including the Philippines, to gain access to COVID-19 vaccines. Through COVAX, the Philippines will receive vaccines for 20 percent of its population, with a first shipment expected end of February. In addition, the EU is also ready to set up a mechanism to facilitate the reselling or donation, possibly through COVAX, of vaccines procured by EU member-states through the advanced purchased agreements. These agreements by the Commission offer the EU member-states the possibility to redirect or donate part of their vaccines to other countries. To date, some 2.3 billion doses of a broad portfolio of vaccines were secured for Europe and its partners.

Amidst this public health situation, the European Union always sees to it that transparency, integrity and accountability are adhered to. These are precursors of trust as it is only when these principles are followed that European citizens will allow themselves to get inoculated. EU vaccines delivered to member-states are also subject to stringent regulatory, contractual and handling conditions.  Vaccine developers are required to submit extensive documentation and data to the European Medicines Agency through the EU Marketing Authorization procedure. After authorization, EU law requires that the safety of the vaccine as well as its effectiveness be monitored. Further evidence will need to be centrally collected to assess the impact and effectiveness of the vaccines. All these are being put in place to help build confidence and trust among the Europeans.

Connectivity and green recovery

The EU’s digital strategy has also been stepped up to help monitor the spread of the coronavirus; to research and develop diagnostics, treatments and vaccines; and to help sustain connectivity. An online tool https://reopen.europa.eu/en and national contact tracing and warning apps can also be used to ensure public health and safety.

Three European supercomputing centers are now engaged in studying and developing vaccines, treatments and diagnoses for the coronavirus. Through a rapid action tool, satellite data is used to measure the impact of the coronavirus lockdown and to monitor post-lockdown recovery at local, regional and global levels. With its 30+ satellites, the EU space program offers free and open data to  help monitor and potentially mitigate against the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

As the vaccine strategy is implemented, the EU strives to address the economic and social damage caused by the pandemic. With the recovery plan “Next Generation EU” worth 750 billion euros is to be invested on a new recovery and resilience facility of 560 billion euros for member-states with a mix of loans and grants; a new solvency support instrument to support private companies; and a major pillar “Addressing the lessons of the crisis” that includes a new health program, EU4Health, to strengthen health security and prepare for future health crises. An overall climate target of 30 percent will apply to the total amount of expenditure from this plan in compliance with the Paris climate agreement.

While the world has become beset with many issues due to the pandemic, the situation has also offered us possibilities to make lives and living better and more sustainable.

The EU has come up with its own blueprint and through COVAX, it stands ready to support continents including the ASEAN and other countries worldwide.

Moreover, the EU shares its vision with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations led by Brunei Darussalam’s chairmanship which commits itself to further strengthening the ASEAN community and to advancing the bloc’s comprehensive recovery from the ongoing pandemic.

We are all in this challenge together and as our president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen states: “Global collaboration is the only way to overcome a global pandemic.”

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Thomas Wiersing is chargé d’affaires of the EU Delegation to the Philippines.

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