EU trailblazer in global efforts to fight the pandemic

Laboratory technicians involved in the production of a COVID-19 vaccine in a laboratory

Since the start of the pandemic, the EU has been working to step up vaccine production, and to make vaccines available worldwide. 

Photo: Thomas Lohnes/AFP via Getty Images

Chancellor Angela Merkel sees the pandemic as a particularly tough test for international cooperation. “The better we pool our forces – in the development, production and distribution of vaccines – the better our prospects of winning the fight against COVID-19. And this will apply to all sorts of future infectious diseases too,” she said at the Global Solutions Summit on 28 May.

From the outset, the EU has advocated a multinational approach, and has played a leading part in this. The community is so far the only global actor that is vaccinating its own population while also supplying large quantities of vaccines to poorer countries, wrote Josep Borrell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, in an op ed for the German newspaper WELT on 31 May. The EU, he pointed out, has exported 240 million doses to 90 countries. That is roughly equivalent to the number of doses used in the EU.

How is the EU involved in the global distribution of vaccines?

At the Global Health Summit on 21 May in Rome, the G20 heads of state and government committed to a whole series of measures. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission presented a Team Europe initiative. It is to build production capacities in Africa, as well as facilitating access to vaccines, medicines and health technologies. 

The initiative is backed by one billion euros from the EU budget and the European development finance institutions including the European Investment Bank (EIB). The goal is to enable Africa to produce 60 per cent of the vaccines it needs by 2040. Currently, the figure is only one per cent.

The European Commission presented specific inputs to the Summit, including cooperation with partners in industry, which manufacture vaccines in Europe. By the end of the year, 100 million vaccine doses are to be donated to low and middle income countries, primarily through COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access). France and Germany have announced that they will each provide 30 million vaccine doses for poorer countries by the end of the year. 

Every day the pandemic is costing thousands of lives. It is important to ensure that a high percentage of people are vaccinated round the globe. It is not very helpful if the population is vaccinated in a few states only. The virus can return at any time from the other countries, possibly in the form of mutations, for which existing vaccines do not offer sufficient protection. Vaccinations also make it possible to lift restrictions that are impacting adversely on the economies of developing nations in particular.