EU must prepare for ‘era of pandemics’, says von der Leyen

Europe must prepare its medical sector to face an “era of pandemics”, said the president of the European Commission, warning that the bloc was still in its most difficult period for deliveries of Covid-19 vaccines.

Ursula von der Leyen told the Financial Times that the EU could not afford to stand still even after Covid-19 was defeated, as she outlined her plans for a Europe-wide rapid reaction system designed to respond more quickly to emerging medical threats.

“Europe is determined to increase its power in vaccine production,” she said in a telephone interview. “This is an era of pandemics that we are entering. If you look at what has happened in recent years, I mean from HIV to Ebola to MERS and SARS, these were all epidemics that could be contained, but we shouldn’t think it’s all over. when we defeated Covid- 19. The risk is still there. ”

Von der Leyen unveiled last month plans for a biodefense preparedness plan called the HERA incubator, which will bring together researchers, biotech companies, manufacturers and governments to monitor emerging threats and work on vaccine adaptation. This will be part of a Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA).

The concept is an attempt to reflect some of the benefits conferred by the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which is tasked with responding quickly to emerging health threats.

“The United States has a strong advantage in having BARDA. . . it is an infrastructure that Europe did not have, ”said von der Leyen. “But Europe must be built to be prepared for whatever happens, and also for the next possible pandemics. This is the HERA incubator. ”

The EU remains in its “most difficult quarter with no questions” for vaccine deliveries, she said, warning that “very many problems” could still arise in the production process.

Turning to the second quarter, she pointed out that a second European contract with BioNTech / Pfizer for their vaccine would come into effect, alongside the new coup from Johnson & Johnson, which is expected to be cleared in March.

In an EU Mountain peak On Thursday, von der Leyen addressed vaccine production and the threat of viral mutations after a difficult start to the year, when she was hit by complaints from politicians in member states, including Germany, over shortages of supply.

Von der Leyen admitted to the European Parliament in early February that mistakes were made in the EU’s vaccination effort, and the campaign is still lagging behind those in the US and UK. Among the difficulties are persistent production problems at AstraZeneca’s European facilities.

Von der Leyen said she was sticking to the EU target for the distribution of 300 million doses in the second quarter, saying the challenge shift from vaccine production to national deployments. As for AstraZeneca’s shipments, she said, “I need to see proof of the pudding. . . It’s great that they also delivered from the rest of the world, but they have to honor their contract and we want our fair share.

Ursula Von der Leyen says she is staying true to the EU target of delivering 300 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine in the second quarter © Remo Casilli / Reuters

The good news for the EU is its access to mRNA technology, which is used in the BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine and which scientists say can be used to quickly adapt to mutations, said von der Leyen .

But she also backed French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to share up to 5% of supplies to enable vaccination of healthcare workers in developing countries.

“We are all suffering from the fact that the scale-up has not been and is not as fast as we initially thought. It has a general effect all over the world, ”she said. “With the resumption of production, I think we must never forget that it is only if everyone has access to vaccines that we will defeat this virus.”

Von der Leyen added that the EU should be particularly concerned about developments in his immediate region.

“The story of the mutant worries me the most,” she said. “When the virus is still raging in the neighborhood, the likelihood of mutants occurring, which return, for example, to Europe, only increases.”

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