The European Union wants to fight the coronavirus with a joint effort. “‘Me first’ is not a good motto. Now we are facing this unprecedented challenge in solidarity,” said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in June. That was the birth of the EU vaccination strategy and the impetus for the establishment of a European Health Union, which the EU Health Ministers discussed at the beginning of December, chaired by Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn. He then stated: “The European Union is showing its strength in the pandemic. Under the German Presidency of the Council, we have strengthened Europe’s defenses and jointly learned lessons from the pandemic.”
What does the EU vaccination strategy include?
The EU Commission’s aim is to secure effective and affordable vaccines for all EU citizens within twelve to 18 months. To this end, it is negotiating on behalf of all Member States with the companies that have launched the most promising vaccine programs. “By taking a common European approach, we want to increase the likelihood for all Member States of finding an effective vaccine. And in this way we can also better ensure that our citizens will have the necessary quantities at an affordable price,” explained von the Leyen.
Overview on the subject of coronavirus (imago / Rob Engelaar / Hollandse Hoogte)
What are the advantages of working together?
If the EU Commission buys vaccines for 450 million citizens, then it has much greater bargaining power than any member state on its own. This not only affects the price of each vaccine dose. The EU was and is also able to make upfront payments with which the pharmaceutical companies could and can cover their research investments. At the same time, the Commission was able to fend off excessive demands, for example for the elimination of liability risks. At least that is what the Commission says. The member countries hope that this joint approach will also result in greater public acceptance of the vaccination.
What criticism is there of the EU Commission’s approach?
The Brussels authority negotiates vaccine contracts on behalf of all Member States, and no one knows whether they will ever be developed. The EU Commission is aware that there is always the risk that the supported candidates will fail in clinical trials. In the European Parliament, there is resentment that the EU Commission does not disclose the contracts it has negotiated with reference to the trade secret. The Green MP Rasmus Andresen criticized, for example: “That has to change, because it is our democratic task and duty to be able to review the terms of the contract.”
How many doses does the EU get and how is it distributed to the member states?
So far, the EU Commission has concluded six of these contracts. If all of these vaccines were actually approved, the EU member states would have almost two billion vaccine doses at their disposal. That many would not be needed, even if every EU citizen had to be vaccinated twice. The excess doses are to be made available to poor countries that are unable to buy vaccines, said von der Leyen: “The European Union will do everything in its power to ensure that all people have access to a vaccine, no matter who where in the world they live. “
(picture alliance / Laci Perenyi)What you need to know about the corona vaccination in Germany
As soon as a vaccine is approved, vaccinations begin in Germany. Who can be vaccinated? How safe are the vaccines? What side effects are to be expected and are you immune afterwards?
Access by EU countries follows a principle that everyone agreed on in June: whenever a vaccine is available, all member states will have access to it at the same time. The available amount is divided proportionally to the population of the EU countries.
However, the agreement on the vaccination strategy also states that the member states are not allowed to conduct separate negotiations with the pharmaceutical companies. But Germany did that. When the EU had just negotiated the contract with Astra Zeneca, Federal Health Minister Spahn announced how many vaccine doses Germany would receive: “54 million is the German population-based portion of the overall EU contract. But that’s only the Astra Zeneca contract the 40 million cans from the contracts nationally as part of the funding that we are doing here. ” The question quickly arose whether Germany was cooking its own soup – despite all the Brussels agreements.
How are the costs divided?
The EU Commission disputes the advance payments to the pharmaceutical companies from the “emergency aid instrument” – a money pot for emergency situations that includes 2.7 billion euros from the EU budget. Because that is not enough, the Commission has asked the Member States for additional payments. The reaction is subdued. Additional support is possible through loans from the European Investment Bank. All other vaccine costs are borne by the Member States.
Why does vaccine approval take longer in the EU than in the UK?
No EU member state can single-handedly approve a vaccine – except through an emergency approval. The issuing country decides on the data it checks and has greater responsibility for the safety of the vaccine. It can also only give a certain amount of the vaccine to certain groups.
The British Medicines Regulatory Authority (MHRA) has granted emergency approval for the Biontech / Pfizer corona vaccine, authorized by the British government. From January 1st (after Brexit), the new authority will finally be responsible for the United Kingdom. The MEP Liese criticized the emergency approval in the Dlf and emphasized that a careful examination is important and takes time. It’s just about 400,000 Brits being vaccinated three weeks earlier. There is so far only little reliable data, especially for young and very old people.
(dpa / Ina Fassbender)Vaccine approval: “What the British did is really problematic”
MEP Peter Liese (CDU) has defended the EU approval process for corona vaccines. A careful examination is important and takes time, said Liese in the Dlf.
An EU-wide marketing can only take place on the basis of the approval of the European Medicines Agency responsible for the EU (Ema). At the moment there are several approval procedures in the EU with conditional marketing authorization. Ema declares that at least one approval should be available by December 29th at the latest. The EU Commission can then approve its use for all EU countries. However, the competent higher federal authority must approve the vaccine there. In Germany, the Paul Ehrlich Institute tests the vaccines.
Klaus Reinhardt, President of the German Medical Association, thinks the time span of four weeks for testing the vaccine in the EU is too long. After all, only a review of studies that have taken place in the past few months has to be carried out and no further review of the vaccine, he said in the Dlf.
(imago-images / Stephane Ferrer Yulianti) President of the German Medical Association: Ema must check vaccine approval faster
According to the President of the German Medical Association, Klaus Reinhardt, a vaccine against the coronavirus could be approved more quickly in Europe.
The approval applications for corona vaccine candidates from Moderna and Biontech / Pfizer are also evaluated in a faster process, the “rolling review”. The evaluation of the vaccine candidate begins even before all required data has been submitted. Despite the acceleration, the requirements for quality, safety and efficacy of the drugs concerned remain high, according to Ema. According to EU drug legislation, the benefits of a Covid-19 vaccine must be far greater than any side effects or potential risks.
Sources: Peter Kapern, Olivia Gerstenberger, EU Commission, dpa