The public health crisis caused by the coronavirus in member states has pushed the European Commission to play a more active role in the field of health.
The European Commission received on Friday (12 Friday) a political mandate from member states to use €2.4bn from the EU budget to sign contracts with pharmaceutical companies working on possible vaccines.
The EU commissioner for health Stella Kyriakydes said that there was “overwhelming” support from EU countries for the commission’s “vaccine strategy” – due be presented on Wednesday (17 June).
EU health ministers called for the full transparency and involvement of member states, stressing that they should be equally represented at all stages of the process.
Separately, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands had already teamed up and they are engaging pharmaceutical companies to buy vaccines – a move that could potentially weaken the EU’s efforts.
However, according to Kyriakydes, “these two paths should converge for the benefit of all 27”.
“This is not a question of being in competition, but of working together,” she added.
“Developing a safe and effective vaccine is the best way of combating this pandemic and there is a high-level of readiness to cooperate to get the vaccine for Covid-19 as soon as possible,” said Croatian health minister Vili Beroš, who chaired the meeting on Friday.
The “vaccine strategy” is part of the recently-proposed €9.4bn stand-alone programme EU4Health, which was also discussed by EU health ministers.
The programme aims to strengthen health systems and scale up the EU’s medical resources by the creation of stockpiles, ensuring that member states are better prepared for future health crises.
“EU4Health is a game-changer that will allow us to tackle the many challenges that have become very clear in the recent months,” Kyriakydes told EU health ministers.
However, some EU countries, such as the Czech Republic, voiced concern that the EU4Health “would not respect the exclusive competence of member states in organising their healthcare systems”.
The EU’s health top official clarified that this programme would only complement national plans as it is established in the treaties.
Covid-19 ‘not over’
Meanwhile, EU commissioner Kyriakides warned that Covid-19 is not over yet, urging the government to uphold their efforts to contain the virus by testing and tracing the population as much as possible.
“This is not behind us yet. We need to be vigilant,” Kyriakides said during a videoconference with health ministers.
While the rate of infection seems to be decreasing across the bloc, the latest risk assessment from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) indicates that some member states are still reporting community transmission.
The latest ECDC risk assessment published last Thursday indicates that the initial wave of transmission has passed its peak in all EU countries, apart from Poland and Sweden.
The ECDC also warned that easing restrictions, just before the summer holiday period, could make people forget about social distancing and hygiene rules – triggering a new surge in coronavirus cases and, eventually, bringing back lockdowns into the bloc.
“The pandemic is not over, and hypothetical forecasting indicates a rise in cases is likely in the coming weeks,” reads the ECDC risk assessment.