Competing vaccine strategies and alliances create concern in Europe

file photo by EPA-EFE/KOEN VAN WEEL

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As a growing number of pharmaceutical companies worldwide announce important breakthrough in the development of vaccines against the coronavirus, the global race for procuring these vaccines is now heating up.

In Europe, the Commission, is seeking to learn the lessons of the initial response to the virus, when a lack of a coordinated approach meant that countries ended up fighting each other for personal protective equipment for healthcare professionals. In this context, Brussels has announced a strategy to purchase vaccines in advance, through a new mechanism called the Emergency Support Instrument (ESI), which allows it to purchase on behalf of EU member countries, bypassing the red tape that’s held up joint procurements.

Yet despite this effort, four major European nations, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Italy set up the so-called Inclusive Vaccine Alliance.

This initiative will negotiate the prices of coronavirus vaccines so that, once approved, they can be made affordable to all Europeans, with a priority for those manufactured in Europe. Up to €2.7 billion were allocated to start spending on vaccines that are still under development and have yet to be approved.

Other countries have criticised this imitative, with Belgian Health Minister Maggie De Block arguing that “By doing this you are weakening everyone: both the Commission’s overall initiative and your own position”.

At an EU health ministers meeting held last Friday, countries gave the Commission the backing to buy coronavirus vaccines on their behalf. Yet, the next day the vaccine alliance announced a deal for between 300 and 400 million doses of a vaccine developed by Anglo-Swedish pharma company AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. Other countries have expressed interest to join this alliance. Political website said that Malta’s Health Minister Chris Fearne confirmed that the country will be joining the alliance.

Malta has set up the Valletta Initiative, a grouping of 10 mostly southern and southeastern countries that try to negotiate drug prices collectively. Deputy Prime Minister Fearne welcomed the alliance and said it seems to have already “brought progress.”

“I think any initiative which brings vaccines across the member states … brings value,” he told

While officially the European Commission said that it is not concerned by the alliance, with Vice President Margaritis Schinas insisting that “what matters here is to make sure that everyone is covered [by a vaccine]”. However, in private, a number of EU diplomats have expressed concern that two approaches were being taken.

European People’s Party MEP Peter Liese expressed his belief that the best approach would see the two different approaches merging together.

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