From the start of the pandemic, the European Commission put its efforts into supporting testing, treatment, surveillance and coordination of measures in support of Member States who are at the forefront of action to reduce case numbers.
With the EU Vaccine Strategy our objective was clear: to secure a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19 for European citizens and beyond. The Commission and the 27 Member countries have been united as one in the pursuit to acquire the broadest vaccines portfolio possible – a tangible example of European collaboration in action. The development, manufacturing, and deployment of vaccines against COVID-19 were accelerated thanks to this strategy. In parallel, Team Europe (the EU and its Member States) contributed to the COVAX facility financing the access to vaccines for low and middle-income countries with EUR 850 million, demonstrating our solidarity with global partners.
Given the urgent need, the Commission has invested heavily in vaccine development. With financial support from the EU budget, upfront costs were covered allowing pharmaceutical companies and research institutes to respond quickly. However, despite the accelerated development, no corners were cut in terms of safety; we simply acted swiftly and decisively, together.
The Commission negotiated intensively together with Member States with leading pharmaceutical companies and signed six agreements, which will give Member States access to over 2 billion doses of potential vaccines, while we have also continued discussions with other vaccine producers.
We now have a broad vaccine portfolio based on several platforms: some vaccine producers such as BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna have developed new types of vaccines based on messenger RNA (mRNA), while others such as AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson use methods that have proved effective in the past against the Ebola virus. These different methods give us the best chance to overcome this pandemic. Furthermore, the Commission is currently laying the groundwork for a dedicated biomedical agency, HERA (Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority) that will serve to tackle the emerging threats of variants and combat health threats effectively in the future.
To date, the European Commission has granted conditional marketing authorisations for three vaccines, with more authorisations and vaccines likely to follow soon. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) continues to conduct rolling reviews of data from trials to gain as much time as possible, while fully respecting the EU’s high standards. Work is also under way on a regulatory framework to allow the EMA to review vaccines as quickly as possible.
Throughout this process, the Commission has also promoted transparency in the process, with countless explanations to the media, public hearings in the European Parliament and through specific webinars and a daily updated website, where redacted contracts such as CureVac’s and AstraZeneca’s have been published.
The Commission stands ready to support Member States on their road to deployment. We have published a number Communications that lay out the key elements needed for the successful roll out of the vaccine. These include services to deliver COVID-19 vaccines swiftly and easy access to vaccines for target populations such older groups and medical professionals.
But let me be clear: we are faced with a massive undertaking. This mass vaccination is unlike any routine vaccinations carried out to date. Therefore, setbacks are inevitable, but vaccine rollout is accelerating. Our goal is to vaccinate 70% of adult EU citizens by end of the summer. As production capacity is stepped up, this target becomes ever more achievable.
No one is safe until everyone is safe. Through collaborative action, we have reached a point where we have a vaccine less than one year since this virus arrived on our shores. We have taken momentous strides thus far and we will keep working to overcoming this pandemic - together.
Author: Pierre Delsaux, Deputy Director-General DG SANTE, European Commission