Coalition of countries aims to keep COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing in Europe

In case the development of the potential AstraZeneca's vaccine will be successful, deliveries are set to start by the end of 2020. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

On the eve of the European Commission’s Vaccines Strategy launch, four EU countries clinched a deal with Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca for the supply of a potential COVID-19 vaccine in a bid to keep production in Europe.

France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands set up the Inclusive Vaccines Alliance (IVA) this month in order to boost their negotiating position in the race for a coronavirus vaccine but also to have it manufactured in Europe if possible.

The coalition has bet on AstraZeneca’s experimental vaccine under development by the University of Oxford and still at the clinical trials stage, ensuring EU-27 countries up to 400 million doses with a price tag of €750 million, according to Reuters.

AstraZeneca researchers have started a large-scale clinical trial in which the vaccine will be tested on 10,000 people. An additional trial with a further 30,000 participants will take place later this month.

In case the development of the vaccine will be successful, deliveries are set to start by the end of 2020 and the doses will be distributed in each EU country, based on their population.

Other member states could join the alliance any time and Spanish Health Emergency Coordinator Fernando Simon said that the country is very likely to join the other four governments in the deal.

If the vaccine gets the go-ahead from the EU’s regulatory authorities, US-based drug manufacturing company Catalent will be entrusted with production at its facility in Anagni, Italy, starting from August 2020.

EU wants to buy COVID-19 vaccines up front – unless they're made in America

The European Commission is seeking a mandate from EU countries to buy promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates in advance from pharmaceutical firms, as long as they are not produced solely in the United States, officials said.

EU impetus

The coalition’s tie-up with AstraZeneca comes a few days before the launch of the Commission’s Vaccines Strategy due on 17 June, which is expected to set up a fund worth €2.4 billion devoted to enacting purchase agreements to buy experimental COVID-19 vaccines upfront.

Vaccines produced in the US would not be eligible for advance purchases, as Washington has signalled it will not allow sales abroad before its own needs are met.

Commenting on the deal, German Christian Democrat MEP Peter Liese recognised that advance purchasing constitutes a risk of wasting money for vaccines that might never be approved.

“However, the situation worldwide is that we need to invest now,” he added.

According to him, the EU proved itself incapable of acting as a bloc at the beginning of the pandemic, which had a negative impact on countries like Italy.

“We shouldn’t do the same mistakes with vaccines,” he said, adding that he hopes the deal struck by the IVA could be merged somehow with the fund proposed by the Commission.

For Liese, the dependency on third countries when it comes to vaccines and pharmaceuticals is crucial for fighting the current and future pandemics.

“I hate what Trump says but it’s clear that we have to establish a similar structure as in the US,” he said mentioning that across the Atlantic they already have private-public partnership even before the pandemic started.

“The main element will be how the Commission will establish this production of medicines, including vaccines, within the EU,” he concluded.

Commission aims to bring back medicine production to Europe

The EU needs to focus on ways to bring the production of medicines and pharmaceutical ingredients back to Europe to avoid a future recurrence of shortages experienced during the COVID-19 crisis, the EU health boss Stella Kyriakides told MEPs on Tuesday (22 April).

[Edited by Sam Morgan]

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