Vice President, Ministers, colleagues,

I am very pleased to be with you all again, even remotely. 

We have two important topics on today’s agenda, variants and vaccines. 

The variants are posing a clear threat, as more transmissible variants are now present in all Member States, and in several they have become the main strain.

Action is needed from us all and this needs to be on two levels. 

Firstly, on diagnostics. Detection must improve, so that action can be taken to limit their spread. Secondly, on our response: to develop, approve and step up production of new and adapted vaccines to deal with them.

This is precisely the rationale behind our initiative for the HERA Incubator, which is the precursor to the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority, HERA. 

€200 million will be dedicated in our HERA Incubator to help all Member States step up diagnostics. More genomic sequencing, multiplex PCR tests and wastewater screening are a must for the coming months.

Genome sequencing needs to be increased to between 5 and 10% of positive test results.

This brings me to the importance of testing.

We now have a common list of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests, including tests that should be mutually recognised, and a common standardised set of data to be included in the test result certificates.

But we also need more tests. To this end, we purchased over 20 million rapid antigen tests, using €100 million from the Emergency Support Instrument, and deliveries are starting this week. 

In parallel, we have launched a joint procurement exercise to ensure a second stream of access. I am pleased to say that that Member States  are now able to start placing orders and that we can deliver more than 550 million rapid antigen tests in the coming months.

The HERA Incubator will build on these reinforced diagnostic efforts. Through our sequencing, we will be building a library of variants.

We will share this information with industry, in order to focus their efforts on producing variant vaccines.

EMA will streamline regulatory procedures to make them as quick as possible, and, we will work with our industrial task force together with Commissioner Breton to ramp up production.

Through this process, we will aim to have in the coming months new or adjusted Advance Purchase Agreements for the variant vaccines.

Speed is of the essence here. But so is collaboration. We are sure you will agree and contribute to this unprecedented European effort.

Ministers,

At our meeting in January, we talked about our vaccination efforts as a giant step towards ending this pandemic.

I think it is fair to say that since then, despite the challenges, events have continued to move in the right direction.

A third vaccine has been authorised for the EU market, and vaccination is underway at an increasing speed in Member States.

We expect EMA to deliver its scientific evaluation of the fourth vaccine in the next two weeks.

Deliveries will increase in the coming months, in line with our agreements.

It is however vital that there is no gap between doses delivered and doses administered, and that no vaccines are left unused.

It is essential that today we look at how best scale up vaccination roll-outs and be prepared for mass vaccinations, to match the increasing pace of deliveries.

We must keep vaccinating as quickly as possible – especially with the new variants in play.

Moreover, in order for us to be able to offer you the most appropriate support, we need the sharing of up-to-date comparable data. I therefore urge you to continue reporting accurate information on your vaccine rollout to the ECDC so that we have a clear understanding of the actual situation on the ground. 

Ministers, colleagues,

This is the immediate term. We all know that we also have to think of the medium and long-term and the sustainability of our health preparedness.

This includes moving ahead with our discussions on the proposals in the Health Union package. I am counting on you to back swift adoption of the package, as called by the leaders last week.

We have no time to loose. The three Health Union proposals are essential to reinforce our defences against health threats.

And by working together we can achieve this. 

Thank you.