The mutations of the coronavirus show that we are also affected if we exclude the global south from our vaccination campaigns.
The international health emergency declared by the WHO a year ago (on 30.01.2020) continues. In the meantime, well over 2 million deaths have been counted worldwide. In our globalized world, it is particularly evident that little can be expected from national go-it-alone efforts. Since the virus does not stop at national borders, a global vaccination strategy is needed that puts solidarity and sustainability before profit and leads to an increase in vaccine production capacities worldwide.
The global immunisation strategy was the subject of the first plenary session of the year in the European Parliament. However, as a number of questions remained unanswered, particularly with regard to development policy, I suggested that the issue should also be taken up again in the Committee on Development. On 4 February, we MEPs therefore had the opportunity to meet again for a one-hour discussion. Debate with the Commissioner for Development Cooperation, Jutta Urpilainen.
Common European vaccination strategy
The EU Commission, together with the Member States (as the so-called "Team Europe"), has agreed on a joint approach to ensure sufficient vaccines for all Member States under good conditions and to distribute them fairly. Such joint action is welcome, even if there is still room for improvement, for example with regard to further coordinated measures to contain the virus.
The fact that the EU is currently lagging behind in vaccination compared to, for example, the United Kingdom, has various reasons: Delays in the vaccination production process, bureaucratic hurdles and poor planning by many member states, but also simply the significantly higher population size.
Lack of transparency
(DE) Mr President, in response to repeated criticism from my colleagues in the European Parliament regarding the lack of transparency in the contracts concluded between the Commission and pharmaceutical companies, there has at least been some movement. Three of the six contracts are now publicly available, and another is before the EP, but key information remains blacked out. (DE) Mr President, one of the European Parliament's core tasks is to control the spending of public money. Transparency is urgently needed for this, if possible already during the contract negotiations.
Germany going it alone?
Germany is the EU country that has vaccinated the most people so far. Contrary to the European strategy, Germany bought 30 million additional vaccine doses from BioNTech/Pfizer and 20 million from CureVac. In this context, Germany has received a lot of criticism at the European level, also because the European vaccination strategy was developed under Commission President von der Leyen and under the German Council Presidency, so Germany would have had a much earlier influence on the low order quantities. With this national unilateral action, Germany may have committed a breach of the Treaty. A relapse into nationalist reflexes will not help us in our common fight against the coronal pandemic, especially as the 50 million doses can probably only be delivered once the EU orders have been completed.
Global immunization strategy
Even though the countries of the global South have so far recorded comparatively fewer Covid 19 deaths, the developments since the outbreak of the second wave are worrying. The sharp rise in deaths, the emergence of mutations of the virus in South Africa, among other places, and the overloading of health systems, especially in crisis areas, call for rapid intervention through vaccination campaigns. A solution approach is COVAX, the central mechanism of WHO, Gavi (Vaccine Alliance) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which aims to implement the global immunization strategy and has been funded by the EU to a major extent so far. The goal is to vaccinate 20% of the world's population by the end of 2021. While COVAX still lacks large amounts of funding for 2021, a sufficient supply of vaccines cannot be ensured due to production bottlenecks, and a 20% vaccination rate is far from sufficient for herd immunity, the EU, on the other hand, has secured at least 2.3 billion vaccine doses for a total population of 450 million people.
COVAX can be an important mechanism to guarantee global distribution of the vaccine, but poorer countries must not rely on the goodwill of richer states to do so. Manufacturers must guarantee COVAX the necessary quantities of vaccines, while richer regions such as the EU should not secure more doses than necessary. Sufficient funding for COVAX must also be secured immediately.
The gamechanger: suspension of patent law and global distribution
The WHO proposal, initiated by India and South AfricaThe attempt to temporarily revoke patents on vaccines against the coronavirus within the framework of the Agreement of Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) has so far been unsuccessful. This would be an important step in many respects: vaccines are increasingly being developed in richer countries. If both the patents and the majority of the vaccine doses exist here, this will exacerbate global injustices in times of pandemic. While more than 100 countries have expressed support for the proposal so far, it has lacked approval from the EU, US and Canada, among others. Even vaccine manufacturer CureVac recently came out in favor of suspending patents to solve the crisis globally.This could help increase global production capacity to provide safe and affordable vaccines for all. The suspension of patents would also facilitate research in other areas of pandemic response, such as the development of medicines for people who cannot be vaccinated, for example, because of pre-existing conditions. This is an area in which it is essential for the European Parliament to adopt a position.
As long as the virus continues to run rampant, and at the same time vaccine production is artificially scarce through patents and made available to only a portion of the world, we will continue to chase the pandemic: If new mutations spread faster than we can produce vaccines against them, we face a race we can never win. That's why we need to ramp up global vaccine production and distribution now.