Von der Leyen: Great progress in fight against COVID-19 must be consolidated

Mme von der Leyen s’est exprimée à la suite du sommet européen organisé à Bruxelles les 24 et 25 mai, lors duquel les dirigeants de l’UE ont approuvé l’introduit du certificat européen Covid-19 (ou certificat vert numérique). [EPA-EFE/Olivier Matthys / POOL]

Europe has made great progress in vaccination since the start of May and this is paving the way for societies to reopen safely, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday (25 May), but warned that progress must be consolidated so that we “stay one step ahead of the virus”.

Von der Leyen spoke after EU leaders, gathered for an in-person summit in Brussels, approved COVID travel certificates aimed at facilitating travel across the bloc.

Recent progress should ensure meeting the goal of vaccinating 70% of the EU adult population by the end of July. Moreover, a downward trend in COVID-19 cases and hospitalisation can also be seen in Europe.

“If we continue like this, we have confidence that we will be able to safely reopen our societies,” von der Leyen said, adding that the focus must now shift towards consolidating this progress.

The questions that still need to be answered

The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, said that despite the vaccination progress “everywhere in Europe”, it is necessary to “remain vigilant and watch out for mutations and variants.”

So far, vaccines have shown to be effective against the variants present in Europe. To ensure better preparedness for new variants, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which now monitors the circulation of virus variants within the EU, will expand its monitoring to a global scale.

Von der Leyen said that “this will help us stay presumably one step ahead of the virus and adapt our strategies quickly in case that this is necessary”.

Another challenge is vaccinating minors. As of now, only BioNTech/Pfizer has submitted data to European Medicines Agency (EMA) for authorisation of their jab for 12- to 15-year-olds. EMA’s decision is expected towards the end of this month.

Moderna is expected to submit data on vaccinating minors to EMA as well, von der Leyen informed.

Another open question is after what time the vaccination will have to be repeated.

No one is safe until everyone is safe

While Europe is looking ahead and anticipating further issues, many countries are still struggling to get access to vaccines.

Michel warned that “the pandemic can only be beaten if everybody is mobilised together through international cooperation”.

Von der Leyen called counties to use sharing mechanism adding that that “donations are desperately needed”.

Around 100 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are to be delivered to the EU partners by the end of the year and Michel was optimistic that the number of doses could be even higher. “Member states have expressed views that lead us to believe that we actually are beyond that capacity to deliver 100 million doses,” he said.

Von der Leyen also mentioned an initiative “to invest one billion euros from Team Europe to develop vaccine manufacturing in Africa”, not only for building up the continent’s manufacturing capacities but also for skills development and the management of the supply chain.

“This initiative also aims at bringing mRNA technologies to Africa,” von der Leyen concluded.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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