Newsletter 259 - EU Strategy for COVID-19 vaccines – update

Health-EU newsletter 259 - Focus

Our best shot against COVID-19: effective vaccination strategies and targeted vaccine deployment

John F. Ryan, European Commssion Director of Public Health, talks about a milestone in the fight against COVID-19. On 15 October, the Commission presented its Communication on preparedness for COVID-19 vaccination strategies and vaccination deployement to the European Parliament and the Council, outling the key steps guiding countries’ vaccination strategies and identifying actions to ensure vaccines are deployed effectively in the EU.

How close are we to having a COVID-19 vaccine? 

We’re striving to do in a year or 18 months what usually takes a decade – develop a safe and effective vaccine. We took our first steps towards this goal in June, with the  publication of the EU Strategy for COVID-19 vaccines.

The Strategy proposed a way to speed up the development and manufacturing of promising vaccine candidates by providing pre-financing, and to help Member States secure those vaccines at the best terms and conditions. The Commission negotiated with vaccine producers on behalf of Member States, purchasing and/or reserving the right to purchase vaccine doses under Advance Purchase Agreements. To date, three contracts for nearly 1 billion doses have been signed.

We don’t yet know which potential vaccine, if any, will meet the efficacy and safety criteria to be placed on the EU market. That’s why the EU needs a broad portfolio of vaccine candidatesto give us the highest chances of finding successful COVID-19 vaccine/s. 

Why is this new Communication being hailed as a milestone? 

Until now, we were focused on securing the production of vaccines. Now, we focused on supporting Member States to smoothly distribute and optimately use those vaccines when they become available.

Safety is paramount. It’s vital that citizens know that we will not cut corners. The European Medicines Agency will conduct an independent and scientific assessment for each vaccine candidate, and once authorised, the safety will be continuously monitored. Rolling data reviews from clinical trials have already started, which will be publically available.

We are not just looking out for our own. Last spring, we launched the Coronavirus Global Response, the global action for universal access to tests, treatments and vaccines against coronavirus and for the global recovery. We have helped raise almost €16 billion for this initiative and we are contributing €400 million to the COVAX Facility to speed up the development, manufacture and deployment of COVID-19 vaccines. 

How long will it be before a significant portion of the general public is vaccinated?

Once authorised, the vaccines will be available to all Member States at the same time. But how long it takes to deploy and deliver the vaccines will depend on Member States’ national arrangements, which is why we need to start preparing NOW. 

Member States should make sure that they have the skilled workforce, medical and protective equipment for vaccination services to deliver COVID-19 vaccines. In the early stages, supplies of one, or more, new COVID-19 vaccines will be delivered without interruption, depending on manufacturing capacity.

Who will get the vaccine first?

In the initial phases, when vaccines are more limited, Member States should consider prioritising certain groups, such as healthcare and long-term care facility workers and people over 60.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?

Having a safe and effective vaccine is going to be a game-changer, but we cannot let down our guard while waiting for it. We have to remain vigilient: continuing testing, contact tracing and preparing health care systems as well as  following the guidelines of our local health authorities.