Scaling up vaccination to save lives worldwide

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

It is time for Europe to show real vaccination solidarity to ensure that COVID vaccines are available to the Global South and COVAX in the volumes required and at cost price, write Udo Bullmann and Conny Reuter.

It is time for Europe to show real vaccination solidarity to ensure that COVID vaccines are available to the Global South and COVAX in the volumes required and at cost price, write Udo Bullmann and Conny Reuter.

Udo Bullmann is a German MEP who is group coordinator for the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) on the European Parliament’s development committee. Conny Reuter is the global coordinator of the Progressive Alliance.

When COVID-19 first hit Europe over a year ago, we could not imagine the impact this virus would have on our daily lives, but also on our health, our societies, and our economies as well as our incomes. With the increasing speed, this virus spread over country borders, continents and even to the most remote communities, it became apparent, how dangerous it is and how urgently all of us have to do their part to stop this pandemic. Many people, too many people, have brought sacrifices; thousands and thousands had to pay the ultimate price: Their lives.

Today, despite the many efforts we have to realise: This pandemic is far from over; the global immunisation efforts are still lacking coordination, cooperation and, most of all, resources.

Europe and the world are behind schedule. We are risking to miss the chance of fully eradicating the virus – which is possible, thanks to the quick development of vaccines. While immunisation efforts and strategies in Europe and worldwide are getting delayed, contractual agreements of producers cannot be met and vaccines show less efficacy than expected. We have to act now, if we do not want to lose the race against time and further virus mutations.

When assessing the vaccination strategy in Europe, it becomes clear that mistakes have been made. While the joint procurement of EU Member States has undoubtedly prevented us from falling into the trap of national competition and bidding wars between Member States, the European Commission has failed to identify the most promising candidates and secure enough vaccine doses from them. Instead of focussing, from an early stage, on increasing production capabilities, the Commission is now trying to safeguard European production. They aim at monitoring exports, not considering the possible implications given that materials for the vaccines produced in the EU come from around the world.

The EU has been quick to support the international vaccine initiative COVAX, but it is clear that the current vaccine production level cannot sustain the global demand, especially regarding those vaccines with high efficacy. Equally hindering, their prices per doses remain way above the levels COVAX will be able to pay. This leads to a situation in which COVAX is having trouble accessing the vaccine market and supplying low- and middle-income countries due to a lack of doses.

However, there is still time to correct these mistakes. The European Commission and the EU’s international partners must now scale up financial commitments for COVAX. The G7 Summit last week has given a first indication on what needs to happen on a larger scale. This project needs enough resources to reach its ambitious goals. Increasing production of vaccines will be central in the upcoming month. Now that vaccines with high efficacy are available, it is crucial to make them accessible to everyone before further mutations outdate them, again. We cannot afford to waste time waiting for deliveries while unused facilities around the world could step-up vaccine output and save lives, ending this pandemic once and for all.

The European Commission and the Member States have to understand that this global crisis can only be solved through global cooperation and not through national egoism. The interconnections of this global pandemic make it as urgent for us to fight COVID-19 in Oceania, Africa, Asia and the Americas, as it is to fight COVID-19 in Europe. The video conference of the members of the European Council on Thursday and Friday, 25-26 February 2021, is yet another chance for the heads of state and government to show that they are indeed able to think and act globally.

This crisis must be a wake up call for us to re-think healthcare globally. Weak health-care systems have exposed our societies. This virus has truly shown that access to universal healthcare is far more than a luxury good: It is an obligation for states to protect their people and shield them from vulnerability.

This is why international development cooperation and foreign policy must put building resilient and strong healthcare systems globally front and centre of the agenda. And we must not forget the contributions of healthcare workers around the world. They have been and still are crucial in crisis management and mitigation.

While we have managed to re-start our economies and began to roll out promising investment programmes to help businesses and workers, we clearly also need more financial resources invested in crisis prevention and limiting the further spread of the virus. Lack of financial resources cannot be a reason not to act, simply because the cost of inaction is too high both economically and morally.

As progressives and partners, we have therefore united more than 140 Member Parties and Member Organisations from the social democratic and socialist party family and allies from civil society and trade unions to make our voices heard. The Progressive Alliance has adopted the Statement “Vaccine Solidarity is the Key” to call for ambitious and decisive measures to end this pandemic once and for all.

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